MANCHESTER, United Kingdom – If Britain leaves the European Union (EU), it could start a chain reaction that leads to the breakup of the bloc, the Finnish Foreign Secretary has said.
Speaking to a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference, Timo Soini said that EU nations fear Britain going it alone as it could provoke other countries to follow their example.
“If you leave, the European Union [will not be] the same,” he said. “It could cause other nations to think ‘not our cup of tea’.”
“We will very keenly follow the process of what you are doing, we will be as excited as you [at the result]. It is solely for British voters to decide, but the effect of this vote is European.”
Soini, a former ally of Nigel Farage, joined the Finnish government earlier this year and was appointed Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.
His party, known as ‘The Finns’ became renowned for its strong Euroscepticism and opposition to mass immigration before it came to power, but Soini admitted today that holding high office had made him “a little bit [of a] politician.”
After last year’s European elections, his party ended its alliance with UKIP and instead joined the Tories’ Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament.
Soini has now given his backing to Prime Minister David Cameron’s efforts to renegotiate a new settlement for Britain in the EU, saying that the era of ever closer union is over. “If we carry on like this,” he said, “we will be so [far behind] the US, China and the rising economies that we will lose our competitiveness.”
In the clearest example of his softening tone, Soini said he would vote to stay in the EU if he were a British voter – despite voting against Finland joining the EU in 1994.
‘The Finns’ party, formerly known as ‘True Finns’, was founded just twenty years ago but last year finished in second place in the country’s general election, joining a coalition with the liberal Centrist Party. They had been frozen out of the previous government for opposing a bailout deal for Portugal.