At the start of 2020, just 48 hours before the UK officially left the EU, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage told the European Parliament that Brexit was a “hammer blow” and that other countries would soon follow suit with exits of their own. In his speech, Mr Farage named Italy and Poland as the member states most likely to follow in Britain’s footsteps. In some respects, he was correct as the current pandemic, lockdown measures and the economic crisis seem to be only exacerbating divisive trends.
Italy has the lowest support for the EU out of Europe’s four biggest economies.
A recent Euronews poll found that 45 percent of respondents were in favour of Italy leaving the EU if Brexit is successful.
France was next at 38 percent, followed by Spain at 37 percent and Germany at 30 percent.
Meanwhile, at the summer launch of the Italexit political party, Gianluigi Paragone promised to free Italy “from the cage of the European Union and the single currency”.
This is not news for European officials, though, who, merely days after Britain voted to leave, had already named the five countries most likely to follow suit.
The warning came in a document obtained by the German media as Foreign Ministers from the six EU founding member states met in Berlin in June 2016 to discuss how to shore up the ailing European project.
Germany was worried that France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Hungary could seek to leave the bloc after Brexit, the German newspaper Die Welt said, citing a finance ministry strategy paper.
The paper recommended that Germany, in coordination with the EU, offered Britain “constructive exit negotiations” aimed at making the UK an “associated partner country”.
The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg conceded that they had to “find better ways of dealing with different levels” of commitment to closer European unity.
They said in a statement: “We are aware that discontent with the functioning of the EU as it is today is manifest in parts of our societies.
“We take this very seriously and are determined to make the EU work better for all our citizens.”
In France, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the former Foreign Minister, said at the time it was imperative that the EU changed in order to staunch the threat of Brexit contagion.
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He said: “The main thing is that we must make Europe more concrete and effective for people. There is still too much unemployment; too many people are in precarious situations.”
Former French President Francois Hollande said the vote for Brexit posed questions not just for Europe but for the whole world.
Mr Hollande said: “For the entire planet there is a question, what will happen?”
The former Danish Prime Minister reiterated calls for the EU to pay more attention to dissatisfaction across the continent.
Lars Loekke Rasmussen said: “The EU must stay away from areas where countries do it best themselves.”
In a recent interview with Express.co.uk, former Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan echoed the German paper’s claims, as he named three countries poised to follow Britain out of the EU.
Mr Hannan, who was recently nominated to the House of Lords, said: “The question is not if Britain will rejoin the EU.
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“The question is who is going to be the next to leave.
“Who is going to be the first to join us and the other 170 odd countries outside the EU, trading with our neighbours but governing ourselves.”
He added: “There are two ways in which it could happen.
“It could happen accidentally because of some economic shock.
“In that case, I think Italy would be a candidate.
“Or it could happen Brexit-style ‒ in other words a referendum, demand for a referendum and a successful referendum.
“I think I would probably at the moment put my money on the Netherlands.
“But I have to nod in the direction of Denmark, which is also having a similar debate.”