Little chance of a stampede from EU if Britain quits, says Portuguese minister

Any Brexit will not start a stampede of countries rushing to leave the European Union – but David Cameron’s attempt to dismantle freedom of labour could hurt the bloc in future, Jorge Costa Oliveira, the Portuguese secretary of state for internationalisation, said yesterday.

He said the UK had brought to the table “an attempt to dismantle the pillar freedoms that are part of the founding treaties of the European Union”.

He said that the risk of such freedoms being thrown into question in other countries was far more significant than the rise of right-wing movements and would be “detrimental to the building up and the maintenance of the European Union”.

The British prime minister David Cameron demanded changes to the availability of benefits to migrant workers in the UK, as part of a shake-up of the country’s relationship with the European Union ahead of a June referendum on whether to leave the bloc.

The EU agreed to introduce the “migration brake” – a mechanism that would allow the UK to formally request the ability to stop benefit payments to EU migrants working in the UK, and to reduce the amount paid by the UK to the parents of migrants working in the UK but with children outside the country.

Brexit will be unlikely to inspire other nations to quit the EU, Mr Oliveira said, citing the likely devaluation of assets following the reinstatement of a national currency.

“This kind of fear exists in all countries of the euro area and will work as a stabilising factor in preventing rash attitudes regarding any country leaving the euro zone,” he said.

A Brexit would pose major legal headaches for both the UK and the EU, Mr Oliveira said. “Will it be complicated? Yes, it has never been done. The complexity of the severance of the union will not be easy.”

But despite Mr Oliveira’s assurances that Portugal and its European neighbours consider it important for the UK to remain in Europe, he says that “none of us will lose sleep over it, because it’s … a decision of the UK people and that has to be respected”.

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