EU leaders mobilise to urge Britain to Remain
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National leaders and media across Europe mobilised on Monday to persuade British voters to remain in the EU, with Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban buying a full-page ad in Monday’s Daily Mail urging Britons to choose “Remain”.
The advertisement tells voters the decision is theirs, adding: “But I would like you to know that Hungary is proud to stand with you as a member of the European Union.” The image includes Mr Orban’s signature in black.
He joins a growing chorus of EU leaders who have begged Britons to stay, deploying a combination of dire warnings about the economic consequences of Brexit and emotional appeals to pro-European sentiment and solidarity.
France’s largest companies took out ads across the UK press on Tuesday, urging Britain to vote to remain, saying their future hiring and investment in the UK depends on the country being “firmly and lastingly anchored in the single market”. The advert is signed by companies such as Airbus, BNP Paribas, Engie, Ingenico and Safran, according to one person with knowledge of the plan. It starts: “S’il vous plaît amis britanniques, remain!” and is signed off “Vos amis français”.
On Monday Donald Tusk, the European Council president, urged Britons voting in Thursday’s referendum to: “Stay with us. We need you. Without you, not only Europe, but the whole western community will become weaker.”
In Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper, financier George Soros, who bet against the pound when Britain crashed out of the EU exchange rate mechanism on “Black Wednesday” in 1992, warns: “A vote to leave could see the week end with a Black Friday.”
This month, Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, published a special bilingual edition with the words “Please Don’t Go” set against a Union Jack.
Meanwhile, channelling Abba, Sweden’s biggest financial daily urged Brits “to take a chance on EU”. Inside, Dagens Industri carried an interview with Fredrik Reinfeldt, the former Swedish prime minister, in which the friend of David Cameron said the UK “should take the responsibility to lead Europe, not leave it”.
Yet Mr Orban’s gambit was probably the most eye-catching. He is the first EU leader to spend public funds on paid political advertisements in the UK media urging a vote for Remain.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovács said Mr Orban and British prime minister David Cameron were on “good, personal terms”: but he would not be drawn on whether the message had been cleared with Downing Street in advance.
Until recently, most of Mr Cameron’s fellow EU leaders have refrained from getting involved in Britain’s EU referendum, fearing a possible backlash against perceived foreign interference. But last week’s apparent swing in public opinion towards “Leave” encouraged them to become more outspoken.
US President Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel have already made high-profile public statements backing Remain while on May 30 Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, campaigned in London with pro-Remain groups targeting Britain’s sizeable Irish population. Irish officials emphasised however that he was doing so in a personal capacity.
In Spain, too, which itself faces a general election just three days after the Brexit vote, the political class — from the ruling Popular party to the far-left Unidos Podemos bloc — is united in its support for Remain.
On the right, political leaders have warned above all of the economic fallout both for the UK and the rest of Europe. On the left, Unidos Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias told Spanish television on Sunday night that his group was calling on British voters to vote Remain — and that it had dispatched a senior party official to Manchester this month to speak at a campaign event.
Mr Orban’s intervention has raised eyebrows given its apparent contrast with his searing Eurosceptic public rhetoric at home. His government has launched a separate mass media campaign in Hungary slamming the EU’s migration policy while he has framed Europe’s refugee influx as an “invasion” of Christian Europe “planned” by a coalition including “Europe’s top leaders”.
The message drew a negative response from Douglas Carswell, Ukip MP for Clacton, who retweeted an image of the advertisement, suggesting it had been paid for by Mr Orban’s political opponents, the far-right Jobbik party. “Quite something that the extremist Jobbik party in Hungary wants us to Remain. You want political union [with] them?” the MP tweeted.
Additional reporting by Richard Milne in Oslo, Tobias Buck in Madrid, Guy Chazan in Berlin and Michael Stothard in Paris
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