Public Affairs Networking
Brexit debate: UK and EU leaders speak their mind

In the coverage of the Brexit referendum, the UK press focuses on the press conference given by Tony Blair and John Major as well as the TV debate that opposed Boris Johnson to several ministers. The Times reports that former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major made a plea for Britain to remain in the European Union at a press conference in Northern Ireland. The former Conservative and Labour party leaders warned that leaving the EU would jeopardise the stability of the Northern Ireland peace process. The Daily Telegraph quotes the reaction of Robert Oxley, a spokesman for Vote Leave, who denounced Mr Blair’s credibility and accused him of denying the public a vote on the EU constitution during his premiership.

El Pais notes that The UK’s EU referendum is fuelling fears in Ireland. If the UK leaves the EU, no one really knows what the consequences will be for the border between the two Irelands. The Guardian and The Times front pages focus on the televised debate on the EU referendum, in which former London Mayor Boris Johnson was accused of wilfully sacrificing millions of British jobs by campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. Throughout the debate, Mr Johnson was repeatedly attacked by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and shadow business secretary Angela Eagle.

The Guardian says that Ms Sturgeon launched a staunch defence of the benefits of immigration and argued that pressure on public services is due to a lack of investment by politicians, during the ITV debate. Meanwhile among European institutions, Le Monde reports that there is a sense of anxiety at the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, where a large majority of staff, media and even lobbyists are fearful of the possibility of a Brexit. The order there is to avoid saying or doing anything that might encourage even more British people to vote to leave the EU.

Never before has an event modified Brussels’ agenda to such an extent. Behind apparent normality, Brussels is running at half-speed and many issues have been postponed until July. Die Kleine Zeitung reports on rumours in Brussels that President Juncker could step down if the Leave side wins the British exit referendum. On a similar note, La Stampa says that France fears the impact on the EU of a possible Brexit and is preparing an emergency plan to be submitted to the other EU partners. It believes that, if the Leave vote wins, the EU should cut all ties with the UK, unlike Germany, which would like to save everything that can be saved in terms of the EU’s ties with Britain.

Interviewed on Bloomberg TV, Vice President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Moscovici hope that Britain remains in the EU. Vice-President Dombrovskis says the economy is continuing to recover, but the British referendum is one of several factors potentially affecting the recovery in Europe. Asked if there is a contingency plan if Britain leaves, Commissioner Moscovici says “absolutely not”, and that there is no plan B. He hopes that member states will move forward into a political and monetary union after the vote and says it is clear that there does not need to be only one currency in the EU, and this is how things must go on.

In other comments, Europa Nova President Guillaume Klossa tells Le Figaro that whatever the result, the priority of the European Council should be to enact clear rules so that an “à la carte Europe” is not an option. According to him, in the short term, Brexit will lead institutions to devote time to the exit process, whereas they need to focus on reviving growth, security and elaborating a strategy on migration and the integration of refugees. He will meet François Hollande today to discuss the “Roadmap for a new European revival”.

The WSJE’s Stephen Fidler says the position of the leave campaigners in regard to regaining control over British affairs is ironic in that “a decision to exit the EU would put the UK’s fate as a trading nation into the hands of dozens of foreign governments.” Malte Fischer notes in Wirtschaftswoche that politicians from Brussels, Berlin and Paris have intervened in the Brexit debate, warning that if the UK leaves, it would mark the end of prosperity and peace in Europe; “But this is nonsense”. A Europe of small states is therefore in Mr Fischer’s mind to be welcomed as it would promote prosperity.

The INYT reports on the way that the British tabloid press has covered the EU referendum. The writer states that the debate “has given some papers a particular opportunity to unleash their nationalist and anti-European tendencies”, and notes “the hostility of some papers to the European Union” is an issue for Prime Minister David Cameron in his attempts to persuade voters to stay in the EU.


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