The European Union may collapse if Britain leaves, the Polish president has warned, as he called for a “cautious compromise” on David Cameron’s demands for reform.
“It is not in Poland’s interest that the UK leaves the European Union. We think it would lead to a big crisis and even a collapse if the UK left,” said Andrzej Duda, who took office in August. “In the referendum, we want the British people to vote in favour of staying in the EU.”
It is the starkest warning yet from a European leader of the possible consequences of Brexit.
He reiterated that Poland will resist measures by Britain to cut the “rights and entitlements” of Poles working in Britain. Mr Cameron’s plan to deny EU workers in-work benefits for four years has provoked anger among Poles, of whom 700,000 now live in Britain.
“We must seek a compromise, but a cautious compromise, not to undermine basic freedoms in the EU, which are very important to Poles,” Mr Duda said.
While some in the Brussels institutions think Brexit would remove an obstacle to radical integration of the EU, the prospect is deeply concerning for many capitals which regard Britain as a vital liberal counterweight to Germany and France.
There could also be financial consequences. Poland is the largest net recipient of EU funds, at €13 billion, while the UK is the third largest net contributor.
Mr Duda’s government is locked in a furious row with Brussels after it launched an investigation into reforms of the judiciary and media law, which have been seen as a threat to democracy. The President indicated he sympathised with Mr Cameron’s frustration with Brussels.
“We want UK nationals to think that they are respected by the EU,” he said. “We expect the same from the EU.”
Donald Tusk, the Polish-born president of the European Council, discussed Brexit at length with Mr Duda in a meeting today.
He made clear that Mr Cameron’s preferred option – discriminating against EU workers based on nationality – was off the table, but added he needed to give him enough to campaign with in the referendum.
“It is in the interest of Poland, the EU, and the United Kingdom that the United Kingdom stays as member of the EU.”
“We need to come up with a reasonable compromise that is not detrimental to the basic freedoms. There will be no room discrimination,” he said. “But we need to come up with a solution that will enable the UK to run a successful campaign for it to stay in the EU.”