BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was a brave one that demonstrated the country’s “greatness” but it is not a path that Hungary will follow, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.
Orban told Reuters in an interview in Brussels that the EU only had itself to blame for the British referendum vote in 2016 to leave the bloc because of the way it had treated the country. The vote for leave had safeguarded the “the good reputation” of the British people, he said.
“Brexit is a brave decision of the British people about their own lives…we consider it as evidence of the greatness of the British,” he said.
Britain left the EU at the end of January, and it has been in difficult negotiations since then to agree on a new trade relationship with the 27-nation bloc that will kick in when a standstill transition ends on Dec. 31.
Orban said Hungary was not an island and was too closely economically integrated with the EU to follow Britain out.
“We can’t afford to follow that track,” he said. “It’s reasonable for Hungary to be part of the European Union.”
He said there was a high level of support for the EU in Hungary despite the country’s many disputes with other member states over issues such as migration and the rule of law.
Orban said one mistake the EU made was to press on with the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission from 2014 in the face of opposition from Britain, which was backed by Hungary.
“I think Brexit was mainly a mistake of the European Union,” Orban said.
“We made mistakes, terrible mistakes,” he said, stressing the point that the EU was not embodied by its central institutions in Brussels but rather a club of sovereign member states whose wishes could only be ignored with the gravest of consequences, like Brexit.
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