Clash Looms on Brexit as EU Leaders Spurn Cameron’s Go-Slow

Updated on
David Cameron: Britain Needs Fresh Leadership
  • Le Pen, Wilders, Northern League call for referendums on EU
  • Government leaders meet to prepare reponse to Brexit result

The first conflict between the U.K. and the European Union over leaving the bloc loomed as the EU’s dominant powers signaled they wanted a rapid British exit and Prime Minister David Cameron said he was in no hurry.

As nationalist parties in France, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere hailed the Brexit vote and called for referendums in their own countries, France’s government spokesman suggested a hard line against Britain and officials in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said they wanted a quick start to talks.

David Cameron enters 10 Downing Street with his wife Samantha Cameron after his resignation speech on June 24.
David Cameron enters 10 Downing Street with his wife Samantha Cameron after his resignation speech on June 24.
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Cameron, who called the referendum and then campaigned unsuccessfully for a “Remain” vote, indicated he will wait as long as three months before making way for a new leader. He said it will be up to his successor to start the process of disentangling Britain from the treaties that tie it to the soon-to-be-27-member bloc. “Leave” campaign leader Boris Johnson also said there was no need to invoke the official separation process right away.

“The U.K. will no longer be part of the EU and the procedures dealing with its departure will be enacted quickly,” French President Francois Hollande said in a statement. “It’s the rule.”

Avoiding Uncertainty

With financial markets hit by turbulence and anti-EU sentiments on the rise across the continent, EU leaders want to avoid a long period of uncertainty and show they are responding to citizens’ concerns. The British vote turned on the EU’s perceived failure to control immigration and create good jobs. Many leaders said before the vote that the EU needed to respond to the demands of its citizens regardless of the result, and today there was a renewed call for new yet-to-be-detailed initiatives to make the EU more relevant and functional.

“The election result is in many ways a wake-up call for Europe.” Prime Minister Stefan Loefven said at a press conference in Stockholm. “The EU needs to develop and improve. We must be able to show that the cooperation actually can deal with our common challenges in a way people expect.”

For a primer on Britain’s exit, click here

Earlier, Paula Bieler, a leading member of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, tweeted that British rejection of the EU marked a “a magical day” and “a day where we celebrate our uniqueness. Today we celebrate genuine and free European diversity!”

Just after 6 a.m. London time, with most votes in, the BBC said there was no way back for the pro-EU side, with voters having favored “Leave” by 52 percent to 48 percent. Now begins a two-year process of negotiating the terms of Britain’s departure. Cameron said in his resignation speech that the U.K. will wait until a new prime minister is in place before triggering exit talks by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. There’s no precedent for a country leaving the EU because it’s never been done.

“I am convinced that we need to hurry up,” Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told reporters in Luxembourg ahead of an EU meeting. “We have to solve this issue in a short time.”

Hollande met with cabinet members involved in European policy and travels to Berlin Monday to meet Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi ahead of a scheduled June 28-29 summit of EU leaders. Finance ministers could confer as soon as this weekend. Merkel called for a “calm and measured” response and said the goal should be a “close and cooperative relationship” with the U.K.

Small Meeting

But already there were cracks in the European response. Smaller countries were annoyed at not being part of the three-way leaders’ meeting in Berlin, nor a Saturday meeting in Berlin of foreign ministers of the EU’s six founding members: Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

“If EU27 unity now a priority then the meeting of EU ‘Founding 6’ not quite ‘on message,’” Estonian President Toomas Ilves said on his Twitter page.

In Brussels, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met this morning with EU President Donald Tusk, European Parliament head Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who holds the bloc’s rotating presidency. 

In a joint statement, they said “We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be. Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty.”

Nationalist parties across Europe responded to the vote with jubilation.

“There must be a referendum now in France!” Marine Le Pen’s National Front party said in a posting on Twitter soon after it became clear that the exit side had won. “The European Union is crumbling and it’s a good thing! The people of Europe aspire to something else.” Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon also said today he wants France to “exit” EU treaties.

Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s Northern League, said in his post: “Thanks U.K., now it’s our turn.” “Hurrah for the British!” tweeted Geert Wilders, the anti-EU leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, which leads in opinion polls ahead of elections in the Netherlands next spring. “Now it is our turn.” Austria’s Freedom Party congratulated Britain for its vote against “migration madness.”  

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