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Brexit: UK is now a ‘diminished country’ too small to prosper outside EU, says Dutch leader Mark Rutte

The Independent logo The Independent 14/02/2019 Jon Stone
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Britain has become a “diminished” country in the years following the EU referendum and faces “insurmountable” problems because of Brexit, the Dutch prime minister has said.

In a scathing assessment of the UK’s fortunes in the wake of the 2016 vote, Mark Rutte said the UK was “a waning country compared to two or three years ago”.

“It is going to become an economy of intermediate size in a place in the Atlantic Ocean,” Mr Rutte told Spanish newspaper El Pais.

“It is neither the US nor the EU. It is too small to appear on the world stage on its own.”

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He also warned that hundreds of companies had plans to relocate across the North Sea from Britain.

“We can’t stop them from coming here,” he said of the news that around 250 UK-based firms had been in talks to relocate to Britain’s closest ally in the EU, to retain access to the single market.

“Every businessman I speak to from the UK is saying they will cut investments, cut their business in the UK. It will have an insurmountable impact on the UK,” he told the Financial Times, adding that Britain was a “more diminished country compared to what it was two or three years ago”.

Related: Labour MPs warn Corbyn: back a second referendum or we quit

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Sony and Panasonic are among high-profile names to have cited Brexit in their relocation, but the trade and investment arm of the Dutch government, the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, has been actively soliciting more firms and says hundreds more are on the verge of moving.

Mr Rutte also said Britain’s allies on the continent were aghast at the fact the UK was doing little to stop a no-deal Brexit.

Related: UK 'could hold back' military help for EU under no-deal Brexit

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“At the moment the ball is rolling towards the Dover cliff and we are shouting ‘Stop the ball from rolling any further’ but nobody is doing anything at the moment, at least not on the UK side,” he said.

Reports out of Westminster and accidental leaks from UK Brexit negotiators suggest Theresa May wants to wait until the very last moment to force her MPs to vote through her Brexit deal.

But the brinkmanship raises the prospect of a possible no-deal, as sought by some hardline Conservative MPs.

Related: May is now considering a n-deal Brexit to save her party - and herself

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Mr Rutte said that as a result of the exodus the Netherlands had only seen benefits from Brexit so far – though his country could face serious disruption at its ports and airports in the event of a no-deal.

The Dutch government has sometimes appeared better prepared for Brexit than the UK, with advanced plans to recruit as many as 1,000 extra border officials to deal with potential disruption and extra bureaucracy caused by the UK’s exit.

In addition to private businesses, the UK has also lost a key EU agency to Amsterdam: the European Medicines Agency, which employs around 900 highly skilled workers.

Gallery: Facts to know about Brexit (Photo Services)

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