Saturday 7 December 2019

EU plans for vote aftermath amid fear over polls

European Commission’s president Donald Tusk. REUTERS
European Commission’s president Donald Tusk. REUTERS

Matthew Holehouse

Donald Tusk, the European Commission's president, has said he is not "optimistic" about Britain staying in the EU in light of the latest polls - and European leaders have admitted for the first time that plans are being prepared for Brexit.

After months of denial of the existence of a 'Plan B', it has been confirmed that "precise" arrangements are being put in place for the days after any exit vote and for a radical centralisation of powers to stop the EU from disintegrating.

"I know it is very difficult for us to be optimistic today, we know the latest polls," said Mr Tusk. "But it's still 50-50, everything is possible.

"Because we are still in a consultation process, we have to be discrete. But I can assure you we will be ready and also very precise during our European Council meeting when it comes to Brexit, the political and formal legal results of potential Brexit."

Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, said: "We hope Britain stays. But we have to stay realistic if we look at the developments.

"If you're watching soccer and your team is behind three to nothing in the 90th minute of the game, it's unlikely that there will be a turnaround."

British prime minister David Cameron is due to see his 27 counterparts at a summit on June 28, five days after next Thursday's referendum.

In an emotional address, Mr Tusk, a Pole, claimed that the costs of the UK leaving would be "really high" for economies across the continent and would weaken it in the face of Russian challenges.

"History taught us that we were always defeated when divided and we always won when stood united," he said.

"The UK has achieved the position of a key state in the EU, whose voice is respected, today more than ever. Many of the British ideas about the EU are gaining support all over Europe. There are so many things we can do together. Leaving now doesn't make any sense."

Germany's Angela Merkel warned that Britain would be a "third party", barred from the single market if it left.

She said: "It will no longer be able to benefit from the advantages of the European common market."

Jean-Claude Juncker, a veteran European federalist, said the "crisis" of a Brexit would trigger closer integration.

He admitted that the EU had made "major mistakes" by meddling in national life for decades but added: "We will continue the process of closer co-operation in Europe."

Irish Independent

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