France warns a Brexit would be irreversible, single market access at stake

By: | Published: June 22, 2016 10:31 PM

French President Francois Hollande warned on Wednesday that if Britons voted to leave the European Union it would be an irreversible decision that could seriously jeopardize Britain's access to the bloc's single market.

French President Francois Hollande warned on Wednesday that if Britons voted to leave the European Union it would be an irreversible decision that could seriously jeopardize Britain’s access to the bloc’s single market.

Britons vote whether to stay inside the EU in a referendum on Thursday. The economic consequences of the vote are key to the outcome, with access to the bloc’s single market for trade in goods and services a major issue.

“There would be a very serious risk of Britain losing its access to the single market and everything that goes with the European economic area. Everyone needs to be well aware of this,” Hollande said, in his starkest warning to date on the consequences of Brexit.

While Norway is part of the single market via a trade deal it has with the EU, fellow non-EU member Switzerland only has access to parts of the single market.

“If the choice is to leave the EU … that would be irreversible,” Hollande said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and his eurosceptic opponents made final pitches for wavering voters on Wednesday on the referendum, with the outcome still too close to call.

“It’s more than Britain’s future that is at stake, it’s also the future of the EU,” Hollande said.

“The departure of a country that is geographically, historically, politically in the EU would have extremely serious consequences” said Hollande, who was talking to reporters after hosting talks with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico.

France and Germany will make proposals on how to move the European Union forward, independently of the outcome of the referendum, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault later told lawmakers.

“We’ll have to take initiatives to bring hope back for European people. Today, doubts are creeping in everywhere, populism, nationalism are taking over,” Ayrault told parliament. “The (French) President will make proposals, together with Germany, and also with others.”

Far-right party leader Marine Le Pen, whom opinion polls see topping the first round of 2017 presidential elections but lose the run-off, has been pressing for France to hold its own referendum on EU membership.

“France has a thousand more reasons to leave the EU than Britain,” she told TF1 television late on Monday, referring to French membership of the euro currency and Schengen border-free area. “I want a referendum in France. All EU countries should have a referendum,” she said.

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