The prospect of Britain leaving the European Union is causing concern among defense ministers in Asia, according to U.K. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
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With meetings scheduled with at least 12 ministers at the annual Shangri-La security dialogue in Singapore on Saturday and Sunday, Fallon said his counterparts “were all obviously interested in how the Brexit campaign” is going.
“I’ve yet to meet with a fellow defense minister who isn’t concerned at the possibility of a Brexit and who doesn’t understand that that would weaken our collective security,” Fallon told reporters on Saturday on the sidelines of the forum. “It would be a very odd thing for Britain to start walking out of international organizations,” he said. “On the contrary, I think many countries still look to Britain to lead, or behind the scenes to steer, many of these groupings.”
Voters go to the polls on June 23 to decide on Britain’s relationship with the EU, with the outcome of the referendum already disrupting markets. The pound took a beating this week after a poll published by the Guardian newspaper put the “Leave” camp in the lead. A Bloomberg composite poll has both sides in a dead heat at 41 percent, with the rest undecided. A probability calculation based on the poll data still shows a so-called Brexit is an unlikely outcome.
For a QuickTake explainer on why the U.K. is voting on its future in the EU, click here.
A Euroskeptic who remains critical of the EU, which he has in the past described as “frustrating” and “bureaucratic,” Fallon is nevertheless actively supporting Prime Minister David Cameron’s position that the U.K. should remain.
“It is precisely because of the influence that the membership of the European Union magnifies that we believe we should stay in,” he said. “Secondly we believe that staying in is vital to our future prosperity because of the trading relationships and the strength of the single market, and thirdly that the European Union adds to the security that we have gained through NATO.”
Fallon said there would never have been sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression in eastern Europe without the EU, and that the bloc would never have decided on sanctions against Russia if Britain hadn’t led on the issue.
“The campaign is intensifying as you’ve seen from the early debates, and I believe that we are still ahead, but we have work to do,” he said.
To access Bloomberg’s Brexit dashboard, click here.
Regarding the U.K.’s military presence in Southeast Asia, Fallon said the country was keen to strengthen its relationships to help stabilize and secure the region.
“This region matters to us,” Fallon said. “It mattered to us before, but I want to get over to you that although we never really went away, Britain is definitely back here.”