EU chief Van Rompuy warns UK: Leaving EU is “not free”


One of the European Union’s top officials has issued a stark warning to Prime Minister David Cameron on the cost for the UK of leaving the EU.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: “Leaving the club altogether, as a few advocate, is legally possible. We have an ‘exit clause’.

“But it’s not a matter of just walking out. It would be legally and politically a most complicated and unpractical affair. Just think of a divorce after 40 years of marriage.”

“Leaving is an act of free will and perfectly legitimate but it doesn’t come for free.”

”How do you convince a room full of people, when you keep your hand on the door handle? How to encourage a friend to change, if your eyes are searching for your coat?” he asked.

Van Rompuy issued his public warning in a major address at a conference at Guildhall in the City of London on “‘Prospects for Revival in the Eurozone – and what place for Britain in Europe”.

His intervention comes after Prime Minister David Cameron offered in January to claw back EU powers and then put the renegotiated relationship to the British people in a referendum after 2015.

“The wish to redefine your country’s relationship with the Union has not gone unnoticed,” said Van Rompuy. “I cannot speak on behalf of the other presidents and prime ministers, but I presume they neither particularly like it, nor particularly fear it.

Van Rompuy’s message to Cameron was welcomed by former EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

“The Prime Minister has made great play of radical treaty change – which he believes is necessary, which will provide the vehicle for the repatriation of powers that he wants. President Van Rompuy seemed to shoot that fox,” Mandelson told Reuters.

“If there is not going to be such a new treaty, I don’t know what the alternative vehicle will be for what the prime minister wants: you cannot have a unilateral negotiation.”