LONDON: Britain could be left "poorer and weaker" by Brexit and needing to spend more to maintain influence abroad, the former head of the country's foreign intelligence agency warned on Thursday.
John Sawers, head of the Secret Intelligence Service -- known as MI6 -- from 2009 to 2014, told a parliamentary committee he feared quitting the European Union would harm Britain's economy and diplomatic clout.
"In the next five years or so, if I'm right that the economy is going to take a hit, then our influence will diminish in that period," said Sawers, now chairman of consultancy firm Macro Advisory Partners.
"The default outcome is that the UK is poorer and weaker as a result of Brexit," he added.
In a prepared statement, Sawers told members of the House of Lords EU external affairs sub-committee, that Britain's ability to deal with adversaries like Russia would be more difficult from outside the bloc.
He argued the country would need to spend more on the military, intelligence and diplomacy to counter this impact.
"After Brexit it will be vital that we sustain, in many ways enhance, our investments in diplomacy, defence, intelligence -- very high investments are made already -- if we want to have an influence in the world of the sort we have had over the last 30 or 40 years," Sawers said.
Chris Bryant, a lawmaker from Britain's opposition Labour Party who backs remaining in the EU, seized on the comments.
"If anyone would know about how Brexit could impact on our security and foreign policy, it is the former head of MI6," he said.
"His remarks today blow apart the complacent assumption... that our influence in the world will be unaffected by leaving the EU."