LONDON A British vote to leave the European Union would damage the British, European and global economies, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in an interview with the BBC.
A British exit following a June 23 membership referendum would rock the EU by ripping away its second-largest economy and its richest financial centre. Prime Minister David Cameron has said Britain will be better off remaining in the bloc.
"We would have years of the most difficult negotiations, which would be very difficult for the EU as well. And for years we would have such insecurity that would be a poison to the economy in the UK, the European continent and for the global economy as well," Schaeuble said, according to a translation of the interview broadcast on Sunday.
Schaeuble said that while Britain would still be able to trade with the EU after leaving, it could not have the advantage of access to the bloc's single market without accepting free movement of EU citizens or paying in to the EU's budget.
He dismissed the idea that Britain could follow the example of countries such as Norway, which accepts freedom of movement, pays contributions to the EU budgets and applies the single market's rules and regulations without having a vote on them.
"I cannot really see why the UK would be interested in staying within the single market without being able to make decisions about it," he said. "It doesn’t really make sense."
A collection of polls published by YouGov on Saturday showed that the 'In' camp has had four consecutive leads since Feb. 25, averaging 40 percent support compared with 37 percent for 'Out'. Its four previous polls put the 'Out' camp ahead.
The German finance minister said it would be a "catastrophe" if Britain left the bloc, but while the EU would be weaker without Britain, it would "not commit suicide".
In response to a question about Turkey's possible future accession to the bloc, he said the German government had major doubts about whether it should become a full EU member.
"It will be a long time before we reach the end of negotiations with Turkey," he said. "This is a question for the coming years, it is not a worry at the present time."
(Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Mark Potter and Susan Thomas)