Germany's Angela Merkel says Britain stronger within EU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference in Berlin on June 2, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a news conference in Berlin on June 2, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged Britain to stay in the EU, warning three weeks ahead of its referendum that a "Brexit" vote would leave the UK with less clout.

"I have repeatedly said that I personally wish that Great Britain stays part of the European Union," she told a Berlin press conference.

Citing the example of international trade talks, she pointed to the benefits of being part of the EU bloc and the risks of isolation.

"One nation by itself will never be able to achieve such good results" in trade negotiations, Merkel said.

Outcomes reached as part of the 28-nation bloc "will be qualitatively better for the people of Great Britain... I'm very certain of that".

Merkel stressed that the decision whether to stay or leave "is the decision of British citizens", mindful not to be seen as meddling in the contentious issue.

British lawmaker Kate Hoey, a "Leave" campaigner from the main opposition Labour Party, said Merkel would be "well advised to stay out" of the referendum debate.

"It is in Germany's interests for the UK to stay in. That doesn't mean that it is in the UK's interests," she told the BBC.

"I really don't think that Angela Merkel telling the British people how they should vote... will affect anyone's vote," she said.

Merkel's call came as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it would be "very harmful for everyone" if Britain voted to leave.

"If Britain left Europe, those who would be hurt the most would be British citizens who would not be able to circulate freely, or transfer capital and goods," he told Spanish news agency EFE.

"There are 100,000 Spaniards working in the United Kingdom who would be very badly impacted but there are (also) 400,000 Britons working in Spain who would be left in a terrible situation," he added.

"It would be very harmful for everyone. If Britain left the European Union, it would be very bad for Britain, it would be bad for Spain but also bad for all Europeans."