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Monday , December 6 2021

EUROPEAN POWERS DEMAND QUICK BRITISH EXIT – Britain, EU squabble over divorce talks

A Kuwaiti man buys British pounds at a money exchange shop in Kuwait City on June 25. The British pound has plunged to its lowest rate since 1985 after the United Kingdom’s vote to exit from the European Union. (AFP)
A Kuwaiti man buys British pounds at a money exchange shop in Kuwait City on June 25. The British pound has plunged to its lowest rate since 1985 after the United Kingdom’s vote to exit from the European Union. (AFP)

LONDON, June 25, (Agencies): European powers demanded a quick divorce Saturday as Britain’s seismic vote to abandon the EU sparked bitter break-up rows at home and abroad. Britons had cast aside warnings of isolation and economic disaster to vote 52 percent-48 percent in favour of quitting the European Union in the June 23 referendum.

The historic vote, fought on the battlefronts of the economy and immigration, toppled Prime Minister David Cameron, pounded sterling and led Moody’s to downgrade Britain’s credit rating outlook to “negative”. Spurned European powers meanwhile showed exasperation at Cameron’s decision to stay on until as late as October before letting a successor take the helm and launch EU exit negotiations.

The six original EU members — Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg — held an emergency meeting in Berlin to grapple with the first defection of the bloc’s 60-year history. “We join together in saying that this process must begin as soon as possible so we don’t end up in an extended limbo period,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault went further, directly urging Cameron to go quickly. “A new prime minister must be designated, that will take a few days but there is a certain urgency,” he told AFP. A new prime minister would be chosen by the ruling Conservative Party in a process that can last weeks or months.

Earlier, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned London against foot-dragging. “It is not an amicable divorce but it was also not an intimate love affair,” he said. The British vote has stoked fears of a domino-effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc. In an early sign of the Brexit fallout in Brussels, Britain’s European commissioner for financial services, Jonathan Hill, said he would stand down. “I don’t believe it is right that I should carry on as the British commissioner as though nothing had happened,” he said.

Scotland stood aghast at the prospect of being dragged out of the 28-nation European Union when more than 60 percent of its people voted to stay in. Scotland is seeking “immediate discussions” with its EU partners to try to protect its position in the bloc, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared after an emergency meeting of Scotland’s cabinet. “A second independence referendum is clearly an option that requires to be on the table,” she added.

The cabinet agreed to start to draw up legislation that could enable such a vote once a decision is taken. Scots backed staying in Britain in their last referendum in 2014. It is unclear how the EU referendum may have changed that position. The often poisonous referendum campaign revealed a split between what The Independent newspaper called “those doing well from globalisation and those ‘left behind’ and not seeing the benefits in jobs or wages”. Young people, graduates, and big cities tended to favour “Remain”. Elder, less educated people and rural populations were more likely to back “Brexit”.

A 12,000-strong survey of referendum voters published by pollster Michael Ashcroft found that 73 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 62 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds had voted “Remain”. Meanwhile 60 percent of people aged over 65 had voted “Leave”. “I feel angry. Those who voted leave, they’re not going to fight the future,” said Mary Treinen, 23, a technological consultant who lives in London’s trendy Shoreditch district. Britain’s rejection of the EU is being seen as a victory for the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Brexit campaign, a feature of growing populism across Europe.

Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen immediately called for referendums on EU membership in their own countries. “Take a bow, Britain!” eurosceptic newspaper the Daily Mail wrote across its front page on Saturday.

The EU said Saturday it had appointed Belgian Didier Seeuws, a longtime aide to former EU president Herman Van Rompuy, to head the union’s special task force to negotiate Britain’s exit. “I can confirm that… there is a task force which will handle all negotiations,” Preben Aamann, a spokesman for current EU president Donald Tusk, told AFP, confirming Seeuws had been appointed to lead it. Aamann said Seeuws was currently doing preparatory work, with the negotiations yet to get underway pending a British decision to formally inform the council that it wanted to leave the European Union.

Tusk and his EU peers said Friday the talks, however difficult they might be, should begin as soon as possible to end the uncertainty caused by Britain’s vote on Thursday to quit the 28-nation bloc. Cameron, announcing his resignation after the vote, said he would leave the negotiations to his successor, expected to take office in October. European Parliament President Martin Schulz said Saturday that Cameron’s decision to wait until October to leave was “scandalous” and tantamount to “taking the whole (European) continent hostage”.

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