Top EU officials ask Britain to begin exit negotiations ‘as soon as possible’

The heads of the European Union’s main institutions acknowledged the outcome of the British referendum to leave the EU and asked the British government to “give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible”.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament president Martin Schulz, European Council president Donald Tusk and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, said in a joint statement that “British people have expressed their wish to leave the European Union; we regret this decision but respect it.”

The joint statement echoed the earlier words by Tusk, re-iterating that the EU would remain united in its response: “We will stand strong and uphold the EU’s core values of promoting peace and the well-being of its peoples. The union of 27 member states will continue.”

However painful the process of Britain’s departure from the EU, it had to start as soon as possible and avoid a delay that would create unnecessary uncertainty, the statement said.

Britain’s departure from the EU would be governed by Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, which sets the rules and procedures for the process. “We stand ready to launch negotiations swiftly with the United Kingdom regarding the terms and conditions of its withdrawal from the European Union,” the joint statement said.

The statement pointed out that until the process is completed, the UK would remain part of the EU. It also specifically pointed out that the renegotiated terms of Britain’s membership in the bloc, agreed in February, would “now not take effect and ceases to exist. There will be no renegotiation.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the outcome of the British vote, describing it as a watershed moment, but also urging caution. She said that the next step would be “to analyse the situation with calm and reason, to evaluate and to make the right decisions together on this basis.”

Germany’s deputy chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was among the first to comment on the vote, tweeting that it was “a bad day for Europe”. Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that he would have preferred a different outcome, but the “procedures for an exit from the European Union are clearly defined and will be applied,” as quoted by Deutsche Welle.

In France, president François Hollande said he profoundly regretted the outcome of the British referendum, which “puts the EU in a difficult position.” He warned against the danger of rising populism – a possible allusion to right-wing Front National leader Marine Le Pen, who has already asked for a similar referendum on French membership in the EU.

Hollande said that the EU should accept the full consequences of the vote and ensure that the procedures for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU are implemented soon. He said he would meet Merkel and Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi ahead of the EU summit on June 28-29, expected to be dominated by discussions about Britain’s decision to exit the bloc.

Renzi tweeted earlier to say that the EU should change to become “more human and more just, but Europe is our home, it’s our future.”

In Eastern Europe, Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski described the outcome of the vote as bad news for Europe and Poland. “I can only sigh. It’s really happened. This is bad news for Europe, and especially bad news for Poland. First, it means destabilization in Britain itself at this time”, Waszczykowski said, as quoted by the Warsaw Voice.

Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico said that the other 27 EU member states had to react quickly, but also emphasised the growing disaffection in Europe with the bloc’s migration and economic policies, The Slovak Spectator reported. Slovakia is due to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1.

In Greece, the country that remains embroiled in an economic crisis and was previously seen as the most likely to exit the EU, prime minister Alexis Tsipras said that “the outcome of the referendum should act as a wakeup call for the sleepwalker who is heading for the abyss,” daily Kathimerini reported. “The arrogant words of technocrats angered people. We need progressive reforms to raise a wall against Europskepticism,” Tsipras was quoted as saying.

In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and President Rossen Plevneliev both described the UK vote to leave the European Union as a bad day for Europe.

The reaction from the administration of US president Barack Obama was muted, with the White House releasing a statement that emphasised the US relations with both the UK and the EU as cornerstones of US foreign policy. “The United Kingdom and the European Union will remain indispensable partners of the United States even as they begin negotiating their ongoing relationship to ensure continued stability, security, and prosperity for Europe, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the world,” the statement said.

(photo:Vaughan Leiberum)



The Sofia Globe staff

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