Brexit would be a 'catastrophe' says Finn

Helsinki - Finland's eurosceptic foreign minister on Thursday said he hoped Britain will remain in the European Union and that a British decision to leave would be a "catastrophe for Europe."

A Brexit would have negative consequences on Europe because Britain has the second largest economy in the EU after Germany and "Britons are the second most important net payers in the EU," Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini told reporters in Helsinki.

Britons are set to vote in a crucial referendum on June 23 to decide whether to support a so-called Brexit, or exit from the EU. The latest polls show the decision could go either way.

"It would indeed be a catastrophe for Europe and a difficult situation for Finland if they do leave," the Finnish foreign minister said,

Soini, leader of the populist Finns Party, has in the past been a fierce critic of the EU and called for a similar referendum in Finland on leaving the bloc.

But he was forced to tone down his criticism after he became foreign minister nearly a year ago.

"I do give [British Prime Minister David] Cameron credit for allowing the people to decide," Soini said, adding that he was afraid of a chain reaction of EU exits in other countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands.

Finland's parliament is set to debate holding a possible referendum on leaving the EU single currency, the euro, after receiving a petition signed by more than 50 000 citizens in March.

Soini's Finns Party has seen its voter support nearly halved over the past year, as Finland struggles with an economic recession and the biggest migration crisis in Europe since World War II.

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