- President urges U.K., EU to negotiate ‘orderly’ departure
- ‘Important that neither side harden positions,’ Obama says
President Barack Obama said he expects the U.K. will abide by the wishes of British voters and carry out plans to leave the European Union, and urged both sides to conduct the departure with minimal disruption.
“We have to assume that a referendum having been passed with a lot of attention” and relatively high participation rate “is going to stick,” Obama said Saturday in Warsaw, after meetings with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Our primary interest is to make sure that the negotiations and the process is as orderly as possible.”
The president’s comments are a further blow to pro-EU campaigners who hope the U.K. might not follow through and leave the bloc. While a majority voted in favor of a Brexit, the referendum is not legally binding and more than 4 million people signed a petition calling for it to be annulled. The government rejected that appeal.
During the two-day NATO summit, Obama had his first meetings with European leaders since the June 23 British referendum. He met on Friday with EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the Brexit vote. Earlier Saturday, he met with leaders of the U.K., Germany, France and Italy.
Obama told reporters that the U.S. has to expect the British government will eventually trigger official proceedings to leave the EU after U.K. voters expressed their desire to quit the 28-nation bloc. How that takes place, he said, is “up to the parties involved.”
Negotiations for the terms of Britain’s exit won’t begin in earnest until U.K. leaders invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting off up to two years of discussions, Tusk said Friday. After his meeting with Obama, Tusk said he was confident that other countries would not emulate the U.K. and leave the EU.
Some government officials, analysts and executives have suggested that the U.K. could reverse its decision. Jamie Dimon, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase & Co., said this week that Brexit is unchartered territory and there would be nothing wrong in changing course.
“There are always solutions to the problems, as long as you have the right people in the room,” Dimon said in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Sole-24 Ore. Henri de Castries, Axa SA’s chief executive officer, said last week that the odds the U.K. will reverse its vote to leave the EU are “low, but not zero.”
Obama emphasized that the U.K. and EU are “close friends, allies and commercial partners” and would remain so post-Brexit. He cited the need for an “orderly’’ process that would ease the U.K. out of the EU while minimizing negative side effects for the global economy.
“It’s important that neither side harden positions that do damage to their respective economies or the world economy at a time when our world economy is still pretty wobbly in places,” Obama told reporters.
The president has used the platform of the summit to extol the virtues of the European project, which has come under strain in recent years. In the weeks since the Brexit vote, politicians in several European countries have called for their citizens to leave the EU as well. Still, as British stocks and the pound have taken a hammering, polls in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries show a surge in support for EU membership.
Obama argued on Saturday that there are “enormous benefits” to be gained from globalization, yet he acknowledged that it brings “danger of increased inequality, workers having less leverage and capital having more leverage.”
He cited the need to address issues including healthcare, the protection of pensions and ensuring that communities are not abandoned when a factory closes.
“If we do not do that effectively, then there’s going to be a backlash,” Obama said.