The U.K. Needs New Leaders, Fast

Who's driving?

Photographer: Jack Taylor

An amicable separation between Britain and the European Union will be difficult, complex and prolonged -- but it’s achievable. Right now the main obstacle isn’t lingering resentment in Brussels about the vote itself, but the collective seizure that has overwhelmed Westminster.

Prime Minister David Cameron is stepping down and the election of a new Conservative Party leader isn’t planned before September -- already a compressed timetable. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, has just lost a vote of no confidence among his parliamentary colleagues. If he resigns, there’ll be a delay in electing his replacement; if he doesn’t, he and his party will be paralyzed.

At a moment of alarm bordering on hysteria in much of the country, the U.K has a semi-functioning government at best.

Some of this disarray is unavoidable. Cameron was right to say he’ll step aside, having set work in train on the technical preparations for exit. In his demeanor, he set the right example -- responding calmly and methodically. Others need to rise to the same level.

So far as possible, the parties need to move faster than usual in selecting new leaders and ministerial teams. Even more important, though, is for every rank-and-file member of Parliament to get a grip. Both sides of the House of Commons have a collective responsibility to lead the nation through this crisis. Difficult as it may be, MPs need to find it in themselves to face this challenge in a spirit of unity.

The new leaderships must be put in place with all due haste -- and leaders of the Leave campaign, especially, need to be more visible and to show they’re ready to take charge. In contrast, haste is exactly the wrong prescription for Europe’s leaders. They must stop pressing for instant action. An orderly disentangling of Britain and the European Union is the work of months if not years. There is nothing to be gained, and a great deal to be lost, in forcing the pace of those talks.

Needless haste in the EU will only make a bad situation worse, as will pointless squabbling in Britain. Urgency in Westminster, patience in Brussels: That’s the way to get through these next difficult weeks.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.