Trump's team asks: Which EU nation will leave next?

LONDON • President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has asked European Union leaders which country is going to leave the bloc next, in a tone that suggested the union will fall apart this year, the outgoing United States ambassador to the EU has said.

In a parting press conference just days before he leaves office, Mr Anthony Gardner said the question was "reflective" of the incoming administration's perception of the EU, reported Politico.

He warned that "fringe" voices such as former UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage had influence in Washington over Mr Trump's team , reported the Financial Times.

Mr Gardner said it would be "lunacy" and the "height of folly" for the US to ditch half a century of foreign policy and support further EU fragmentation or become a "Brexit cheerleader" in Brussels.

"I was struck in various calls that were going on between the incoming administration and the EU that the first question is: What country is about to leave next after the UK?" he said.

"The perceived sense is that 2017 is the year in which the EU is going to fall apart. And I hope that Nigel Farage is not the only voice being listened to because that is a fringe voice," said Mr Gardner.

"We should not depart from 50 years of foreign policy with regard to the EU and we should not become the cheerleaders for Brexit, particularly if Brexit appears more likely to be a hard, disorderly, unmanaged Brexit," he said. "That would be, in my opinion, absolutely folly."

Mr Gardner said the next administration needed to be told that the EU "was not falling apart" and was finding more sense of purpose in the wake of Brexit.

He also praised Britain's former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, who resigned after not seeing eye to eye with Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit.

"I very much respect what he did. If only there were more people in political life who did that," Mr Gardner said. "(But) we are seeing the opposite, with people who say one thing before an election and then are very quick to turn their coats and say the absolute opposite thing in the hope of getting a government job."

Mr Gardner mentioned that Mr Farage had sought a meeting with him in a letter that said "your excellency" six times. Mr Farage hit back at Mr Gardner's comments as "the last desperate defence of Obama's pro-EU policy".

"It is clear that Mr Trump's new team is realistic and already asking which member states will leave the EU next," he said. "I wrote a very courteous letter wishing Ambassador Gardner and his family a merry Christmas, and this is the response I get. I was hoping to discuss the transition and the changes that have taken place in recent months."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's team asks: Which EU nation will leave next?'. Print Edition | Subscribe