European leaders lament Britain’s choice to leave EU

The British people on Friday voted by a narrow margin to break away from the European Union, a move that some European leaders are labeling a grave mistake.

In a message posted on his official Twitter account, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel described the vote as a “bad day for Europe.”

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault similarly took to Twitter to air his displeasure with the vote, saying he was “sad for the United Kingdom.”

“Europe will continue but it must react and rediscover the confidence of its peoples. It’s urgent,” Ayrault said.

More than 70 per cent of registered voters participated in the referendum, which passed by a margin of nearly four per cent. The referendum was seen by many “Leave” supporters as reflecting British sentiment on immigration, sovereignty, security and Britain’s economic future.

“We have fought against the multinationals, we have fought against the big merchant banks, we’ve fought against big politics, we’ve fought against lies, corruption and deceit. And today, honesty, decency and belief in nation, I think now, is going to win,” Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, told a group of supporters following the vote.

Several European leaders saw the successful British EU exit as an opportunity to push for similar referendums in their countries, including France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who hailed the “Brexit” decision as a “victory for freedom.”

“As I have been asking for years we must now have the same referendum in France and EU countries,” the National Front leader said on Twitter.

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders called for the Netherlands to hold a referendum on its EU membership shortly after news broke of the results. Wilders, who is currently leading in opinion polls, said if he is elected prime minister in the country’s March general election, he will call for a referendum.

“We want be in charge of our own country, our own money, our own borders, and our own immigration policy,” he said in a statement. “If I become prime minister, there will be a referendum in the Netherlands on leaving the European Union as well. Let the Dutch people decide.”

A survey conducted this week in the Netherlands by the Een Vandaag television channel showed the 54 per cent of Dutch people are in favor of a referendum.

In an effort to stem the tide of other European countries that may want cut ties with the union, EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said he will speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on “how we can avoid a chain reaction” of other countries choosing to leave.

“The chain reaction that is being celebrated everywhere now by euroskeptics won’t happen,” he said.

He went on to say that Britain made a mistake in leaving the EU, the world’s largest single market. “That’ll have consequences,” he said. “And I don’t believe other countries will be encouraged to follow that dangerous path.”