Brexit domino effect as EU’s ‘fear’ of future referendums laid bare

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In recent months, fears mounted about the Union splintering apart as politicians in EU’s biggest economies renewed talk of seceding from the bloc. With an eye on events in the UK, politicians in France, Germany, Spain and Italy have all floated ideas about exiting the EU. While nations may be spurred by Britain severing ties with Brussels, euroscepticism on the continent is nothing new.

An unearthed interview with former French President Francois Hollande reveals EU leaders were already worried about the possibility of the bloc breaking up.

The ex-leader told the 2019 BBC documentary, ‘Inside Europe: 10 Years of Turmoil’, of how officials in Europe were worried former Prime Minister David Cameron might lose the Brexit referendum.

Mr Cameron was trying to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership but faced serious pushback over his planned immigration reforms.

Mr Hollande said: “Any concessions made to the UK on freedom of movement in the EU would be easily requested by any other member state.

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“I said to him, honestly, if he got a special deal for the UK – because there was a fear he might lose the referendum – then other countries under populist pressure would try to organise their own referendum and get their own special deal.”

The 2016 public vote – in which Britain decided to leave the EU – was seen as a gamble on the part of Mr Cameron as he faced mounting anti-EU pressure from within his ruling Conservative Party.

The Prime Minister had promised to hold an in/out vote on Britain’s membership of the bloc during his successful re-election campaign.

Ahead of the referendum, he had tried to secure concessions from Brussels in a bid to demonstrate the benefits of EU membership.

One such proposal had been for a so-called “emergency brake” curbing EU migrant access to benefits in Britain.

Mr Hollande added: “I told him nothing obliged him to hold the referendum when he did.

“This would not be the first time that a commitment made at an election had not been kept afterwards.

“But he wanted to show he could negotiate successfully with Europeans.”

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Since officially leaving the EU last year, Britain’s journey has been closely watched by political figures in the bloc’s current member states.

Among those is the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who, ahead of the French elections next year, has hinted at the possibility of ‘Frexit’.

In April, he said: “We could draw some lessons from Brexit for ourselves. It’s now too late for the UK but not for us.”

The Italian public also shows interest in exiting the EU, according to a poll commissioned by Euronews.

If Brexit is seen to benefit the UK in five years’ time, 45 percent of Italians would be in favour of leaving the EU, according to 1,500 people polled in the country.

More than a third of those polled in France and Spain also said they would want out of the bloc, while in Germany just under 30 percent did.
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