Geoffrey Van Orden believes Britain's exit from the EU could be a 'seismic shock' for the region (Photo: http://www.geoffreyvanorden.com)
Brussels: India and the US want the UK to stay in the EU to "look after their interests", a top European Parliament member has said and underlined that Brexit would be a "seismic shock" for the bloc if it goes through.
"Countries like India and the US, they want us in the EU in order to bring a bit of common sense to the institution and to look after their interests within this European organisation," Geoffrey Van Orden, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Britain's Conservative Party leader, said.
With just over a month left for the June 23 referendum on Brexit, Van Orden, however, said he has not yet declared his position but will do so in due course of time.
"I oppose so much of what goes on in this place (European Parliament) and in the European Union. I think a lot of it is detrimental to British interests and indeed in the interest of many of our European countries," Van Orden, the Chair of the European Parliament's Delegation for relations with India, told a visiting group of Indian journalists in Brussels.
"I would say about an 80 per cent of what goes on here I oppose. So you would think therefore I would naturally be a Brexiter. My heart says leave but there are some serious reasons why one has to hesitate about that. And included among these reasons are...we don't know how easy it would be for us to negotiate new trade arrangements with the bloc that we are leaving behind," the 71-year-old said.
Van Orden said he has no doubt that the UK would be able to negotiate arrangements separately but how long will that take and how much of an economic upset would that be in the meantime are all factors that need to be considered before deciding on Brexit, a term used for the UK's exit from the 28-nation European Union.
"Another very strong consideration particularly for me is that none of our Commonwealth friends and allies including India are saying to us leave the European Union. Indeed many of them are saying please stay for selfish reasons in fact this was indeed (the case) with our great American friends," the Vice-Chair of European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Parliament said.
Asked if India and the UK should work on a bilateral trade agreement with the India-EU FTA talks not progressing much, Van Orden said such a step will have to "wait till June 23".
"This is one of the arguments -- how easy would it be for the UK (to negotiate trade pacts)...," he said. "After all if the UK were to leave the EU, this would be a seismic shock to the EU and it would unlock a whole lot of forces in many other countries and lead to a lot of questioning of the EU relationship in many other places," Van Orden said.
Giving his insight into how he feels the referendum campaign was panning out in the UK, Van Orden said the outcome hangs in balance and could swing both ways.
"If you ask me more widely that what is the situation in the UK regarding Brexit. My answer to that is it is finely balanced. I would say at this moment it is probably 50-50. I think the turnout might be lower than what people expect," he said.
Asserting that there were a lot of arguments in favour of Brexit, Van Orden said there were certain key considerations that were holding him back from supporting the 'Leave' campaign.
Talking about such considerations, he said Britain relies a lot on foreign investment and there might be some nervousness on the part of investors that they would no longer have unfettered access to that single market on the European continent if the UK were to leave.
"The fact is if you have a seat at the table why would you give it up. If you have some influence...and I know that there is a lot of criticism about the degree of influence that
we have and how often we get voted down in the council of ministers and how there have been sort of power shifts since the treaty of Lisbon. This place now has equal decision-making standing with the council of ministers," Van Orden said.
"I think all these are regrettable moves but nevertheless it is now the reality that we now have to face. And so one has to think that if we left this thing is still going to be there
20 miles across the English Channel and we will have no foothold in it and no influence over it. So these are the things that hold me back and in due course I will give my views on what I think are people should do," he said.
The influential MEP said he wants the UK to play to its strengths and asserted that the country has offered so much and can offer much if it stays in the EU.
"I would like to see the UK playing a stronger role in the world not defined by its membership of the EU even if we decide to remain in. In other words that is just one of a number of clubs we belong too, it is not our be all and end all," he said.
Van Orden said that in the EU "any number of people" from different nations are telling him not to leave.
"The Germans say to me don't leave us alone with the French. The Danes will say don't leave us alone with the Germans. All around we have people saying please stay which brings me back to the thought we should have got for more in those negotiations. I blame ourselves, I don't think we asked for enough and we should have pushed harder," Van Orden said.
"Whatever I might think about French ambitions in Europe, nevertheless I do have respect for French diplomacy. I have actually said to the British Prime Minister why don't we behave like the French. In other words make outrageous demands and then people will say what can we give them. We can't give them a 100 per cent of what they want but we give them 75 per cent," he said. "But we are not French and so we didn't behave like that," he added.