Thursday

21st Feb 2019

EU urges UK to submit Brexit papers

  • From left to right: Dutch PM Rutte, EP president Schulz, Commission president Juncker, and Council president Tusk (Photo: European Commission)

The remaining 27 members of the European Union are calling on the United Kingdom to start the process of leaving the bloc “as soon as possible”, instead of waiting until a new prime minister has settled in 10 Downing Street.

British leader David Cameron said on Friday morning (24 June) that he would try “to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months”, but that the formal request to withdraw from the EU should be done by his successor.

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  • Cameron said he would leave the formal application to leave the EU up to his successor (Photo: Number 10 Downing Street)

“There is no need for a precise timetable today, but in my view we should aim to have a new prime minister in place by the start of the Conservative Party conference in October,” he said.

His European counterparts do not want to wait that long.

“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,” the heads of four EU institutions said in a common statement later the same day.

The text was agreed by the presidents of the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council, as well as by the prime minister of the Netherlands, which holds the rotating six-month EU presidency.

It was read out by commission head Jean-Claude Juncker at a press conference shortly after noon on Friday.

“Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty. We have rules to deal with this in an orderly way,” he said.

Those rules are the now oft-cited article 50 of the EU treaty, which states that any member state may pull out of the union.

Other member states cannot force the UK out. But the exit process depends on the UK's formal notification of triggering article 50. Only then can the process of negotiations on future relations between the divorcees begin. That process can take up to two years.

“It is for the UK to make that notification,” one EU source said. “The referendum result is not a notification as such.”

'Speed things up'

Many EU politicians from the remaining 27 countries also urged the UK to trigger article 50 sooner rather than later.

“There is no time to lose,” said the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault at an EU event in Luxembourg on Friday.

The ministerial was chaired by Bert Koenders, the foreign minister of the Netherlands.

“We hope this whole process of negotiation after this landmark [UK] decision will be transparent, predictable and as soon as possible,” he told press before the meeting.

What future for the 27?

The negotiations can take up to two years. But there were already calls for a rethink of the future of the European project for its remaining members.

Juncker, when asked if the Brexit vote could trigger the collapse of the EU, said “No. Thank you,” was his only comment before he gathered his paper and left the stage.

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said that Brexit was a “cut in Europe”, but she said European unity must continue.

“The European Union is strong enough to find the right answers for today,” she said. The German leader reminded people that the original idea for European integration “was an idea for peace”.

Miroslav Lajcak, foreign minister of Slovakia, which will take over as EU chair from the Netherlands on 1 July, said the vote was more than just a British vote.

“It is a message for the rest of the European Union as well,” he said.

“We believe in the European project. We have to make it more attractive to our citizens. We have to win back the support of our citizens,” Lajcak added.

What's next?

On Saturday, foreign ministers of the original six founding members will meet in Berlin for talks. Two days later, Merkel will host French president Francois Hollande, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, and EU Council president Donald Tusk.

Also on Monday, Cameron will hold a meeting with his cabinet.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, all EU government leaders will travel to Brussels for a summit.

They were due to talk about the economy and migration, but now the summit will be dominated by Brexit.

Cameron will give a presentation on the results, but there will also be a meeting of EU leaders where Cameron will not be allowed in the room.

Not everyone is happy with the pre-summit meetings.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a social media message that if unity among the 27 remaining EU member states is the priority, then Saturday's meeting of the six original members is "not quite on message".

Analysis

EU's Article 50: the rules for Brexit

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty contains the rules that a member state wishing to leave the EU must follow. But it has never been used and leaves many unanswered questions on Brexit.

EU gangs up on Cameron

French diplomacy chief called for a new British PM in next “few days”, while the EU commission said Brexit was Cameron's fault.

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