On a day when a number of high-profile European politicians spoke out on the potential consequences of the referendum, Merkel said the decision was one for Britain’s voters, before adding: “I personally hope and wish that Britain will stay part and parcel of the European Union.”
Leave campaigners have stressed that Britain could strike a new trade deal with the EU after a Brexit, which would retain open access to European markets, while allowing a future government to impose restrictions on the free movement of people.
But Merkel suggested a post-Brexit British government would not receive the same “quality of compromise” with member states without sharing the costs of the single market as well as the benefits.
Merkel is the latest world leader to intervene in the debate about Britain’s future in the EU, with Barack Obama using a visit earlier this year to warn that the US would not rush to do a trade deal with Britain alone.
Merkel stressed that Britain was able to have its voice heard in debates about EU rules and regulations by remaining at the negotiating table. “We work well together with the United Kingdom, particularly perhaps when we talk about new rules for the European Union,” she said.
“We have to develop those together with the United Kingdom and, whenever we negotiate that, you can much better have an influence on the debate when you sit at the bargaining table and you can give input into those negotiations. The result will invariably be better when you have that, rather than being outside of the room.”
How Britain would fare in negotiating its way out of the EU has been a key point of contention in the referendum debate. Michael Gove and his Vote Leave colleagues have suggested the government could drive a hard bargain with the rest of the EU, which is a major market for British exports.
The fact that the German chancellor has decided to make a considered intervention, after having previously indicated she would not comment on the matter, is seen as a sign of growing concern inside her government about the destabilising effect a British exit from the EU could have on the eurozone economy.
“Having led many negotiations with countries outside the EU in the past, we would never enter the same compromises and reach the same good outcomes with states that don’t shoulder the responsibilities and costs of the common market,” Merkel said at a press conference following a meeting with the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
The comments came shortly after her European policy adviser, Uwe Corsepius, attended a summit near Brussels at which the foreign ministers of the EU’s six founding states debated how member states should react if the UK leaves the union.
Other European leaders have also begun to spell out the consequences of Britain’s departure from the union, with Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and president of the Eurogroup, calling on the UK to play a stronger role to make the European Union a success, if it votes to stay on 23 June.
“The UK shouldn’t just be leaning back and making sure the interests of the City are heard; they should be leaning forward and making sure we really need to get it right. Just staying in the EU, but sitting back and playing defensive just isn’t good enough.”
The Netherlands, a free trade-loving country that takes a pragmatic approach to EU integration, has long been a close ally of the UK in Brussels. The Dutch are concerned that the impetus to extend the EU single market will be lost if Britain votes to leave.
In an interview with the Guardian and six other European newspapers, Dijsselbloem said he would welcome the UK “taking the lead in Europe” and showing initiative on projects to deepen the single market and promote trade, including the controversial transatlantic trade pact TTIP, which is on the verge of stalling, amid deadlocked talks between the EU and US.
He was speaking on the same day that the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, warned that Brexit posed “a downside risk” to the global economy.
Dijsselbloem insisted there was “no big plan” to put on the table the day after a possible Brexit, although a lot of ideas were under discussion. He said: “Every door you open [in Brussels], people are talking about what if, and what should happen.”
Brexit would have “negative effects” on the UK and the rest of Europe, although he insisted the eurozone would not be blown off course.
“I don’t think there will be chaos and panic,” he said. “The most important message that has to come from us both today and on the 24th is that we have to make [the eurozone] work, that we are determined to keep strengthening the monetary union – which by the way is not necessarily a full political union – but strengthening what we have.”
“I have no doubt whatsoever, as I have repeatedly stated, that it would be very negative if the United Kingdom left the European Union. Negative for everybody, for the United Kingdom, for Spain, and for the European Union,” Rajoy told the Spanish news agency EFE.
“But, above all, it would be very negative for British citizens: the European Union is based, ever since its foundation, on the principles of freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capitals.”
More than 400,000 British citizens live and work in Spain, while 100,000 Spanish citizens live in the UK, Rajoy said.
UK citizens, he said, would forfeit crucial rights to live and work across the continent. “Leaving the European Union would mean that British citizens would lose their right to move freely, work and do business within the largest economic area, the largest market in the world,” he said.
“If the United Kingdom left the European Union, it would be very negative for everyone and from every perspective.”
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