Flotilla protest in London as Berlin warns on Brexit

15th June 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Brexit fishing flotilla sailed up the River Thames Wednesday ahead of next week's knife-edge referendum over EU membership as Germany warned a British departure could start Europe's "disintegration".

Around 30 fishing boats floated past Tower Bridge, sounding their foghorns and displaying anti-EU signs, led by UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage in a protest against EU fisheries policy.

Events then took a bizarre turn when pro-EU rocker Bob Geldof pulled up in a rival boat, shouting "Nigel you're a fraud" through a loudspeaker, only to be hosed with water from a "Leave" boat.

They set off after Prime Minister David Cameron's government warned that leaving the European Union in the referendum on June 23 would cause such economic turmoil that tax hikes and spending cuts would quickly follow.

A series of opinion polls have shown the Brexit camp gaining ground, prompting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to issue a stark warning of the risks to the rest of the bloc.

"It would be a shock for the EU that would require mutual assurances that the EU continues to stick together and that a very successful decades-long process of integration doesn't in the end turn into disintegration," he said in Brandenburg.

Speaking at a joint press conference with French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, he added: "We can both say that we want the majority in Britain to make the right decision, and the right decision from our point of view can only be to remain in Europe."

"Europe would be lacking a lot if Great Britain decided to leave," he said.

- 'Temper tantrum' -

Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who is campaigning for Britain to remain in the 28-member bloc, said that schools, hospitals and the army would all have their funding slashed if Britons vote to leave.

In a harsh government warning on the economic implications of a Brexit, Osborne said leaving the EU would blast a £30-billion ($42.4-billion, 37.9-billion-euro) hole in national finances.

In response, the basic rate of income tax would be raised, inheritance tax would be hiked, and the budget for services including the state-run National Health Service (NHS) would be cut, he said.

"Quitting the EU would hit investment, hurt families and harm the British economy," he said.

"I would have a responsibility to try to restore stability to the public finances and that would mean an emergency budget where we would have to increase taxes and cut spending."

Osborne's warning came as opinion polls indicate a surge of support for the Brexit camp, putting pressure on global markets.

But deputies from Osborne's own Conservative party slammed the "blackmail budget" and vowed to vote against it.

Fifty-seven Tory MPs said Osborne's warning was the result of a "reckless teenage temper tantrum" and that his job was under threat if he pushed ahead with the plans.

"If the chancellor is serious then we cannot possibly allow this to go ahead," said the statement.

"If he were to proceed with these proposals, the chancellor's position would become untenable."

- Rolls Royce warning -

Investors have responded to the pro-Brexit momentum by selling stocks and putting their money in safe havens, with Europe's main markets down sharply on Tuesday -- although rebounding slightly at the opening Wednesday -- and the euro hitting a three-and-a-half year low.

Reflecting business uncertainty, engineering giant Rolls Royce urged staff to vote to stay in the union, warning in a letter that "as a company with three quarters of our workforce based in the EU, we have a clear interest in this debate".

However, official figures released Wednesday showed that UK unemployment had fallen to an eight-year low, soothing some fears that investment decisions were being put off due to the referendum uncertainty.

As the campaign enters its final stretch, a poll by ComRes showed the race on a knife edge, with support for remaining at 46 percent and the pro-Brexit side at 45 percent.

This contrasts with a result from the same pollster just one month earlier in which the pro-remain side had an 11-point lead.

The WhatUKThink website, an average of the last six opinion polls, gave "Leave" 52 percent against 48 percent for "Remain".

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© 2016 AFP

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