Jean-Claude Juncker says it was a ‘mistake’ for EU to stay silent during Brexit referendum ‘lies’

EU commission president says he regrets listening to David Cameron’s advice not to intervene in campaign

Jon Stone
Brussels
Tuesday 07 May 2019 13:56
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Jean-Claude Juncker says it was a 'mistake' for EU to stay silent during Brexit referendum 'lies'

The president of the EU Commission has said he regrets not intervening in the UK’s Brexit referendum to correct “lies” about the bloc during the campaign.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Jean-Claude Juncker said it was a “big mistake” to listen to David Cameron, who he said had asked Brussels to “stay silent”.

“The mistake I made was to listen too carefully to the British government – Cameron, because the then prime minister asked me not to interfere, not to intervene in the referendum campaign.

“It was a mistake not to intervene and not to interfere because we would have been the only ones to destroy the lies which were circulated around. I was wrong to be silent at an important moment.”

But the commission president, who is nearing the end of his mandate and will be replaced in October, struck a more ambivalent tone on Brexit as it stood today.

“I don’t have fears, I don’t have hopes,” he told reporters.

“I was saying the other day that by comparison to the British parliament the Egyptian sphinx are open books. Either they stay or they will leave. If they stay, they stay. If they leave, they leave.”

During the Brexit referendum campaign, the UK Statistics Authority wrote to Vote Leave, criticising it for using a false figure claiming that the UK pays the EU £350m a week.

The campaign plastered the figure on the side of a bus and put out advertisements featuring the claim.

Meanwhile on the remain side, predictions about the economic impact of a Leave vote have been criticised as being wide of the mark.

A Treasury analysis published a month before the referendum claimed that “a vote to Leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy”. This effect has yet to materialise over two years since the vote.

David Cameron’s request to Mr Juncker may have been based on the fear that any intervention from Brussels could provoke an adverse reaction. Brexiteers tried to stir up a backlash after Barack Obama, then US president, warned that Britain would be at the “back of the queue” for a trade deal.

Mr Juncker was speaking ahead of a key meeting in the Romanian city of Sibiu on Thursday, where the 27 EU leaders will meet to discuss the future of the bloc. Theresa May has declined to attend the summit, which was originally scheduled to take place following the UK’s departure.

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