I.M.F. Warns of Economic Risk of British Exit From E.U.

By STEPHEN CASTLE


Clockwise from top left, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president; Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain; and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, at a February meeting at the European Council in Brussels. Credit Pool photo by Yves Herman     
 
 
LONDON — A stark warning about the potentially negative economic impact of a British withdrawal from the European Union and a new report on immigration have galvanized debate over the country’s future in the bloc, a little more than two months before a referendum on whether to leave.
 
Britons appear to be sharply divided over European Union membership, and those who want to remain, including Prime Minister David Cameron, hope that worries about the economic uncertainty that would probably accompany a British exit will influence voters.
 
The concerns about the economy were highlighted on Tuesday in a statement from the International Monetary Fund, which said that a British withdrawal from the bloc, a possibility known as “Brexit,” would pose “major challenges for both the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.”
 
Mr. Cameron received less welcome news on Wednesday, when researchers at Oxford University reported that the existing economic problems in the eurozone, of which Britain is not a member, were prompting a growing number of people from Southern Europe to seek work in Britain.
The debate over the referendum had taken a back seat here in recent days after it was revealed that Mr. Cameron’s father had been named in documents related to offshore banking from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, and that Mr. Cameron and his wife had sold their interest in his father’s trust just before Mr. Cameron became prime minister in 2010.  
 
The assessment from the I.M.F. gave Mr. Cameron an avenue to return the focus to an issue that he wants to make central to the referendum.
 
“Negotiations on post-exit arrangements would likely be protracted, resulting in an extended period of heightened uncertainty that could weigh heavily on confidence and investment, all the while increasing financial market volatility,” the fund said in the report, called the World Economic Outlook.
 
The statement was supported by Mr. Cameron and by the chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who described the report as the “clearest independent warning of the taste of bad things to come.”
 
Norman Lamont, a former Conservative chancellor who wants Britain to leave the bloc, dismissed the report as “a highly political intervention, but not a surprising one,” while Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of Vote Leave, said the fund had “talked down the British economy in the past, and now it is doing it again at the request of our own chancellor.”
 
Campaigners for withdrawal are also angry about the government’s distribution, at a cost of 9 million pounds, or about $12.8 million, of a pamphlet to every household arguing that a vote to leave “would create years of uncertainty and potential economic disruption.”
 
Immigration is among the leading issues for those who oppose membership in the bloc. European Union citizens have a right to live and work in other member nations, and the report released on Wednesday from the Migration Observatory at Oxford University reflected those concerns.
 

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