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News 21 Apr 16

Albania Gets Dragged in to Britain’s EU Battle

Leading anti-EU campaigner’s call for UK to team up with Albania and Serbia has incurred general ridicule.

Marcus Tanner
BIRN
London
Leading anti-EU campaigner’s call for UK to team up with Albania and Serbia has incurred general ridicule.

Albania has become sucked into the UK’s in-or-out EU referendum after a leader of the “Leave” campaign said Britain could team up with Serbia, Bosnia and Albania in a free-trade zone once it left the EU.

Leading Conservative ideologue and UK Justice Minister Michael Gove has drawn scorn for remarks made two days ago, with pundits and pro-EU opponents lining up to call the reference to impoverished Albania a tactical blunder.

Writing in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman said suggestions that Albania might be a suitable business model for a post-exit Britain were “a dangerous gaffe.

“The ‘Albanian option’ has been gleefully seized upon by the Remain campaign and for understandable reasons,” he wrote.

“First, it sounds rather unattractive – there are not many people who would swap a British passport for an Albanian document. Second, it invites ridicule,” he said.

“Gove’s mistake was to start naming countries with arrangements that Britain could emulate. Alongside Albania, he also mentioned Serbia, Bosnia and Ukraine – none of which are bywords for peace and prosperity,” he added.

“Politically, suggesting leaving the EU and joining the Balkans is obviously an absurd proposition. You can expect to hear a lot more about Albania during the rest of the referendum campaign,” he concluded.

While Gove’s “Albanian gaffe” has attracted mockery, no one doubts that the Justice Minister – with his keen sense of history – is a formidable campaigner on behalf of Britain’s departure from the EU, which he calls an undemocratic empire.

In his speech on Monday, he likened the 27-member bloc to “Austria-Hungary under the Habsburgs, the Russian Empire under Nicholas the Second, Rome under its later Emperors or the Ottoman Empire in its final years.

“There is a free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or EU. After we vote to leave we will remain in this zone…. Agreeing to maintain this continental free trade zone is the simple course and emphatically in everyone's interests,” he added.

UK government officials, however, point out that Albania and Serbia are, in fact, desperate to join the EU and dump their existing trade arrangements.

They also strongly dispute the idea that European leaders would offer the UK a preferential trading agreement in the event of a “leave” vote.

Latest polls suggest that the “Remain” camp is edging into the lead with the support of 52 per cent of voters as opposed to 43 per cent for the “Leave” team.

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