February 28, 2013 / 6:00 PM / in 5 years

Van Rompuy tells Britain leaving EU "does not come for free"

LONDON (Reuters) - European Council President Herman Van Rompuy cautioned Britain on Thursday that leaving the European Union does not come for free and said the bloc’s leaders do not want to change any treaties.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy attends a debate on the EU's long-term budget at the EU parliament in Brussels February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Van Rompuy said Britain should play a central role in building the European economy. He said EU leaders neither feared nor liked Britain’s attempt to redefine its relationship with the European Union.

”Leaving the club altogether, as a few advocate, is legally possible - we have an ‘exit clause’ - but it’s not a matter of just walking out. It would be legally and politically a most complicated and unpractical affair. Just think of a divorce after forty years of marriage.

“Leaving is an act of free will and perfectly legitimate but it doesn’t come for free,” he said in a speech at the Guildhall in the City of London.

“How do you convince a room full of people when you keep your hand of the door handle?” he asked. “Changing the EU treaties is not the priority.”

“Your views resonate with many countries; with them, Britain can play an absolutely central part in making Europe’s economy fit for the future. The role is yours to take,” he said.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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