U.K. Pressed by European Parliament to Initiate EU Exit Process

  • Assembly wants secession talks to begin ‘as soon as possible’
  • UKIP leader Farage says Britain has leverage over Europe

European Union lawmakers said the U.K. should trigger the process for seceding from the EU “as soon as possible,” increasing pressure on British Prime Minister David Cameron hours before he meets fellow leaders of the bloc.

The European Parliament said any lengthy U.K. delay in activating negotiations on an exit from the 28-nation EU must be avoided “to prevent damaging uncertainty for everyone and to protect the union’s integrity.” The EU assembly made the appeal in a non-binding resolution approved on Tuesday in Brussels.

Juncker on June 28.

Photographer: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

“The worst thing that can happen is to continue this uncertainty,” Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the EU Parliament’s Liberal group and a former Belgian prime minister, said during a debate in the assembly. He said the June 23 British referendum result has created a “toxic climate that is bad for business, bad for investment.”

After the referendum in which 52 percent of British voters supported quitting the EU, Cameron wrong-footed other leaders in Europe by announcing his resignation and saying he would leave it to a successor -- who may be chosen by a Conservative Party conference in October -- to trigger the negotiations on Brexit. EU government heads plan to discuss the issue over dinner on Tuesday in Brussels.

‘Prolonged Uncertainty’

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, echoed the EU Parliament by saying Europe must avoid a period of “prolonged uncertainty” following the U.K. referendum. While saying a “complicated” U.K. political system makes it unrealistic for the British government immediately to trigger the secession process, Juncker insisted that step must precede the start of any negotiations on a new U.K. relationship with the EU.

“No notification, no negotiation,” Juncker, who leads the EU’s executive arm, said in the bloc’s 751-seat Parliament.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin on Tuesday that the U.K. can’t expect favored treatment once it leaves the EU. She said “we will ensure the cherry-picking principle won’t apply in the negotiations” and “there must be -- and there will be -- a palpable difference between a country that wants to be part of the European Union and one that doesn’t.”

U.K. Independence Party head Nigel Farage, who helped lead the Brexit campaign, said the EU has more to lose than does Britain by hindering trade with the country after it leaves the bloc.

“If you were to decide to cut off your noses to spite your faces and to reject any idea of a sensible trade deal, the consequences would be far worse for you than it would be for us,” Farage told the EU Parliament, where he is a member. “If we were to move to a position where tariffs were reintroduced on products like motor cars, then hundreds of thousands of German workers would risk losing their jobs.”