Brexit: Britain is either in or out, French economy minister warns

Tough message reflects intense debate with Berlin over how to deal with aftermath of Brexit
Emmanuel Macron, 38, helped President Hollande to power in 2012 but is now set to run against him © Reuters

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France will issue an “in or out” ultimatum to the British government if the UK votes to leave the EU in next week’s referendum to prevent contagion across the bloc, the French economy minister has said.

Emmanuel Macron said the UK would either have to pay for access to the single market or go it completely alone.

“In the interest of the EU, we cannot afford any ambiguity and cannot let too much time pass,” the 38 year old minister told Le Monde in an interview published on Saturday. “One is in or out.”

With the rest of the EU debating how to react in the aftermath of next week’s vote, Mr Macron said heads of state including French president François Hollande needed to send a firm message and outline a schedule of the consequences of a possible UK vote to leave the EU when they meet in Brussels on 28 June.

Among the consequences of a Brexit, UK financial institutions would stop benefiting from the so-called EU passport that allows them to sell products and raise funds across the single market, Mr Macron said.

Britain would also have to contribute to the EU budget if it wanted its companies to benefit from the same trade conditions in the single market, as Switzerland and Norway.

He warned that by voting Leave, the UK would become a country akin to Guernsey, one of the low-tax Channel Islands. Britain would be “a small country in the scale of the world,” he said.

Mr Macron was the first French minister to warn of negative consequences of a Leave vote, in March going as far as threatening that France would relocate the migrant camp in Calais to the British side of the Channel.

With less than a week to go before the UK referendum, Mr Macron’s tough message is a reflection of the intense debate between Paris and Berlin over how to deal with the aftermath of a Brexit.

While Angela Merkel is leaning towards a more lenient approach to mitigate the expected turbulence, France wants to spell out quickly what the UK would lose, to avoid contagion across the bloc. This concern applies to some extent to domestic politics too, where anti-EU forces such as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, are at play.

“Our challenge, the day after, is twofold: avoid contamination caused by a Brexit, and restart immediately a positive project for Europe,” Mr Macron said.

“Even if Remain wins, France will take the initiative. The status negotiated in February [by prime minister David Cameron in Brussels] is exceptional and is not intended to extend to others.”

Mr Macron pointed to the irony that the British Leave voters were turning their back to a market-oriented, liberal concept of Europe largely inspired by the UK.

The referendum highlights “the end of an ultraliberal Europe that the British themselves have pushed for, the end of a Europe without a political plan, centred on its domestic market,” Mr Macron was quoted as saying.

“The British are, with this referendum, turning the page of their own vision of Europe.”

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