EU leaders set to urge UK to act quickly on Brexit vote

Leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to say that UK’s future relationship with EU must be based on ‘rights and obligations’. European leaders are expected to confirm that the UK must move fast and cannot expect special favours in talks on its future relationship with the EU.

Presidents and prime ministers are meeting in Brussels without Britain for the first time, as they try to chart a path forward and limit the fallout from the UK’s decision to leave.

According to a draft summit communique, EU leaders will express hope that the UK will remain “a close partner”, but stress that the future relationship must be based on “rights and obligations”.

The draft is a more formal version of the message delivered to David Cameron.

The German chancellor,Merkel, warned the prime minister that Britain would not be able to cherry-pick the terms of its future relationship with the EU, and that no negotiations, formal or informal, could start before article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the mechanism for leaving the union, was invoked.

The 27 remaining members are broadly agreed that the UK needs some time to let the dust settle after the Brexit referendum before it triggers the formal withdrawal process.

EU leaders are also scrambling to show voters that the Brexit shock will not be ignored. “Europeans expect us to do better when it comes to providing security, prosperity and hope for a better future,” the statement says.

Arriving for the talks, leaders stressed the urgent need for the EU to pull together and move forwards with concrete plans. The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, said Tuesday was about Cameron, but Wednesday “is about us, what we are going to do about our unity”.

Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, said there was “a perception of technocracy” that must be dispelled. “We have to show Europe brings a real added value that can be felt by our fellow citizens,” he said. Xavier Bettel, his counterpart from Luxembourg, said that “with a disunited United Kingdom, we need a united Europe more than ever”.

Cameron flew back to London on Tuesday night after telling his fellow heads of government over dinner that anxieties about unrestricted freedom of movement – which he said were shared by many other members states – were the root cause of the Brexit vote. The union would have to consider allowing more control over immigration, he said.

Coming in the opposite direction was Nicola, arriving in Brussels to sound out the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, on the possibility of Scotland – which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – joining the bloc as a separate member. The European council president, Donald Tusk, declined to meet Sturgeon.

Although there is acceptance that Britain needs breathing space to appoint a new prime minister and establish what kind of future deal it might actually want, the 27 – backed by the leaders of the EU’s institutions – have made clear that they will not wait indefinitely.

Most want Brexit under way quickly to contain the risk of Eurosceptic contagion, limit economic instability and allow the EU to move forward with major new initiatives on security, growth and jobs.

Juncker, said Britain could not take “months to meditate”, reinforcing an emerging consensus in Brussels that the exit process, which once started, must be completed within two years, should begin at the latest by the end of the year.

The commission president was also sharply critical of the leave campaign for not having prepared for the eventuality it might win. “I thought that if you wanted to leave, you had a plan,” he said. “They don’t have it.”

Juncker added that if a Brexit leader were to take over as prime minister, they should be obliged to trigger article 50 the following day.

Cameron has insisted it is Britain’s “sovereign decision” when to trigger article 50, and that initiating the withdrawal process would be a job for his successor, who is likely to be appointed by early September.

The leaders also stood firm on the need for Britain to accept the EU’s four fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of movement, if it wanted privileged access to the bloc’s single market. “You can’t say: ‘I divorce you, but I’ll live with you for a few days a year,’” said Michel.

Some member states – particularly Poland, which considers the UK one of its main EU allies – have speculated about whether the UK might not be persuaded to stay.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, also wondered on Tuesday whether Brexit might ever happen.

Kerry, who visited Downing Street on Monday, said Cameron was loth to invoke article 50 and that the prime minister “feels powerless – and I think this is a fair conclusion – to go out and start negotiating a thing that he doesn’t believe in and he has no idea how he would do it”.

Apparently referring to Boris Johnson, one of the frontrunners to replace Cameron, he added: “And by the way, nor do most of the people who voted to do it.”

On Tuesday, many MEPs turned their backs on Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader and prominent leave campaigner, jeering and booing as he belligerently celebrated the result and told them: “You’re not laughing now.”

Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right Front National said the Brexit vote represented “a signal of liberty and freedom sent out to the entire world; a cry of love of a people for their country”. She said the British “have chosen a route which it thought was closed for all time”.

As the 27 other EU members try to bolster the bloc in light of Britain’s departure, Tusk promised to convene a special summit of leaders in Bratislava in September to which the UK will not be invited.


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