A British vote in favour of Brexit, or a departure from the European Union, would be a loss for the entire bloc, several EU foreign ministers said Monday, three days before the referendum on Britain's future in Europe.
If voters opt for Brexit, "we will lose more than a country," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Europe would be "considerably poorer" without Britain's history and tradition, he added, noting that it would mark a turning point for the EU.
European foreign policy draws its strength in part from Britain's "immense global projection," said Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, while his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz argued that Brexit would have "huge negative consequences."
Not only would the EU be worse off in terms of economic, foreign and defence policy, but also from an ideological perspective, Kurz said, noting that Britain has not shied away from pointing out where the bloc is going wrong.
"We need countries that have the courage to address it when something isn't going well," he said.
"This is no experiment," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned, telling British voters that they would gain "no political, economic or cultural advantage" from leaving the EU.
Steinmeier said many of the ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, had expressed hope that Britain remains a member of the bloc. There was a palpable sense of "nervous unrest," he noted.
"All Europeans are looking towards the British," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. "The British people hold in their hands a very heavy responsibility for their country, for their own interests, but also for Europe."
But his Spanish colleague, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, said that Brexit would not be the "beginning of the end" for the EU. Financial markets would stabilize soon afterwards, and Spain would push for further European economic integration.
"Whatever the outcome, the EU will be different," said Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak. "We need to make sure that the EU answers to the expectations of our citizens."
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond predicted that the referendum outcome would be "a very tight result either way."
"This is an irreversible decision," he added. "Britain could never rejoin the European Union at a later date, except on terms that would be unacceptable to it."
However, if Britain votes to remain in the EU, people will expect a "speedy and complete implementation" of concessions negotiated with Brussels earlier this year, Hammond warned, before meeting his 27 EU counterparts.
The steps promised to British Prime Minister David Cameron cover four areas: preventing eurozone decisions from harming British interests; allowing for welfare curbs on EU citizens in Britain; granting an opt-out from "ever-closer union" among member states; and pledging to ramp up the EU's competitiveness.