British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Sunday that the European Union will “lurch very much in the wrong direction” if Britain votes to leave the EU.
Hammond predicted that negotiations with other European leaders to maintain a reform deal for the bloc “would go to the wire” at a European Council summit on Thursday and Friday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is in pursuit of forcing changes in four main areas, the most accentuated being limiting access to welfare benefits for EU migrants for their first four years in the UK.
“The text on the table recognises there can be a period of four years in which people are treated different. That is a major breakthrough in challenging one of the sacred cows of EU ideology.” said Hammond.
“There isn’t a deal yet, we have to make progress, there are blanks in the text.” and he added, “I don’t think that’s going to get resolved before Thursday. We’ve got a negotiation that will run through this week and I have no doubt that will go right to the wire.”
Hammond accepted that Britain might get “slightly less than they expect” in some areas, but emphasised that if British people are to vote to remain within the EU, European leaders should understand that Britain has to have a robust deal.
Hammond said that Britain would not necessarily push for a treaty change in the reforms, saying it was not essential to give them binding force, and that would cause the referendum date to be pushed back if they were not happy with the proposals.
He also suggested that if Britain did eventually vote to leave, it could bring about crisis for remaining members of the EU, and lead to other break-up negotiations.
“I fear that without Britain, Europe would lurch very much in the wrong direction.” he said.
“There’s real fear in Europe that if Britain leaves, the contagion would spread.” he added.
“Countries remaining in the EU will be looking over their shoulder at the people in their own country going ‘if the Brits can do it why can’t we?’ and they will not have an interest in demonstrating that we can succeed outside the EU.”
According to a poll conducted by The Independent on Sunday, as a result of his renegotiations, Cameron’s approval rating has fallen. Only 31 percent of those polled by ComRes look on Cameron favourably, his rating has dropped seven points in the last three months.