Top European Union officials on Friday sought to reassure markets about the bloc’s unity in the face of Britain’s decision to leave and signaled a tough stance toward negotiations on future ties with the UK.
“This is an unprecedented situation but we are united in our response,” the officials said in a join statement after a meeting in Brussels. The Union of 27 member states will continue.”
The bloc is inclined to take a hard line with Britain to discourage other countries from taking a similar tack in an effort to get a better deal. Euroskeptic parties throughout the EU have welcomed the vote, calling for in-or-out referendums in their own countries.
The UK government has signalled it wants more time to prepare before it triggers a legal clause starting the complicated negotiations on the terms of its departure.
That would open a two-year window and possibly more to work out myriad issues ranging from single-market access for British companies to British access to EU security databases in the fight against terrorism. Separately, the UK may seek to engage in free trade negotiations with the bloc, a process that could last several years.
EU officials urged the government to start as soon as possible, “however painful that process may be.”
“Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty. We have rules to deal with this in an orderly way,” European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Parliament chief Martin Schulz said in the statement.
Departing Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that it was up to the new prime minister, who is expected to be elected by October, to trigger Article 50.
A deal by Cameron struck in the run-up to the referendum providing for renewed terms of membership for the UK “ceases to exist,” officials said, but EU law will apply in the UK until its formal exit takes place.
Tusk said he would call a meeting of EU leaders – without Cameron – on the sidelines of a summit next in Brussels of all 28 EU leaders. Tusk said the side meeting would allow a “wider reflection on the future of our union”.
Speaking on their way into a meeting in Luxembourg, several EU foreign ministers tried to put pressure on Cameron to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders stressed the process of negotiations have to be “transparent, predictable and as soon as possible”.
French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also said Britain needed to invoke Article 50 as a matter of urgency.
“There is no time to lose. Any period of uncertainty would be harmful,” Ayrault said.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said was important the separation be a “civilised” one.
“If the political will is there, we will see if we can find a way to find good cooperation, even if it’s not a member state, economically, but possibly also on other aspects,” Asselborn said.
Polish State Secretary for Europe, Konrad Szymański, however, said that Britain’s plans to delay the triggering of the formal negotiations wasn’t a problem.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Friday he is in touch with his colleagues from the Group of Seven industrialised nations over the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
“The EU procedure for an exit from the European Union is clearly regulated and will be applied,” Schäuble said in a statement. “This creates reliability. Europe will now stand together.”
Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe Dutch Freedom Party, welcomed the UK result, saying on Twitter that “the Netherlands will be next!”
French anti-European leader Marine Le Pen tweeted Friday that the British referendum produced a “victory for liberty” and renewed her calls to hold “the same referendum in France and EU countries”.
Both France and the Netherlands are due to hold elections next spring. The National Front and Wilders’ Freedom Party are both performing strongly in polls.
Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy’s Northern League, welcomed the UK vote Friday morning. In a tweet, he wrote: “Cheers to the courage of free citizens! Heart, head and pride has beat lies, threats and blackmail. THANK YOU, UK, now it’s our turn.”
The League has called in the past for a referendum in Italy to leave the euro. Over the last couple of years, it has prioritised a strident anti-immigrant platform, where it has gained more electoral traction.
This article was published by The Wall Street Journal