British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to deny the United Kingdom had collapsed “politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically” last night, after his final summit with EU leaders before the UK leaves the bloc.
At a subdued and “sad” dinner with the other 27-leaders, Cameron confirmed and got agreement that his successor would “trigger without delay” Article 50 – the legal mechanism by which Britain leaves the EU after 43 years.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker later stressed that should come “the next day” after a new Prime Minister takes office in Downing Street.
President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi had earlier briefed the dinner that growth across the euro area would decrease by 0.3%-0.5% over the next three years, due to Brexit.
It’s a Nein
German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed to crush any lingering hopes for the 48% of the British who voted to stay in the EU, saying “I don’t think it’s possible. The referendum is there as reality.”
“I don’t see a possibility to go back.”
She added: “It was a sad occasion, it was unfortunate, but it’s reality. We’re politicians. We’re not here to dwell very long on sadness. We made our regret clear but we have to accept the reality.”
Whilst some in Brussels have argued over who will lead the negotiations, it appears it will be a European Commission-led, Council-backed process.
According to two sources, the Irish delegation pushed hard to have a significant role in the negotiations, both due to their trading relationship with the UK, and the land border between North and South, which will become an EU Schengen border.
Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrives in Brussels today (29 June) for talks with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who told journalists he would be in “listening” mode, rather than proposing solutions for the dilemma of Scotland voting to remain within the EU, against the overall UK vote.
The remaining 27 members of the EU will meet today, for their second day of the summit, without the UK.
Cameron, in his final, packed press conference just before midnight in Brussels, was keen to stress that triggering Article 50 would be a “sovereign” decision for the UK.
He also, in a line pushed by Downing Street officials, pushed the remaining 27 members to look at the free movement of people – something immediately slapped down by the Commission.
“We need to look at it, and Europe needs to look at it,” Cameron said.
The PM said he had hoped the February renegotiation – which he called “better than the status quo or leaving” – would have been enough to swing the referendum, which was dominated by immigration, but conceded it had not.
Responding to the comments by Mark Rutte earlier in the day, that England was effectively a failed state, having collapsed “politically, monetarily, constitutionally and economically,” Cameron replied “I just don’t believe that,” pointing to membership of the G7, the G20, NATO and the seat on the UN.
“We are one of the best connected nations in the world,” he declared.
However, trillions of dollars have been wiped off world markets since Thursday’s shock result, Cameron has resigned, notable Leave figureheads have been reluctant to appear in public to volunteer what happens next, and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has lost a vote of confidence – although he has not resigned.
In a clear warning to his successor , likely to be Boris Johnson or Home Secretary Theresa May, Cameron said the “negotiating aims” of the UK would have to be decided before triggering Article 50, and that it was “impossible to have all the rights” of being within the EU once the UK leaves.
Dealing with that, and freedom of movement, will be a “huge challenge for the future” he said.
He stressed European nations were still “our neighbours, allies, partners and friends”.
Juncker: One day to trigger Article 50
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, meanwhile, told journalists that the next British PM has “a day to trigger Article 50″.
“As long as there is no notification, there is no negotiation. I have told the whole staff of the European Commission not to have negotiations,” Juncker added.
On the internal market, he warned, “Either you are in or out. If you are out, you have to negotiate access to the market like the Swiss or Norway.”
Juncker also criticised the Leave leadership, saying: “What I don’t understand is that those who wanted to leave are totally unable to tell us what they want.
“They are saying we need some time. I thought if you want to leave you have a plan, a project with global pictures but they don’t have it.”
In a passionate final coda, he added, “My impression is that if you are, over years if not decades, telling your public that something is wrong with the EU, that this EU is too technocratic, bureaucratic, you are not taken by surprise if voters believe you.
“Blaming Brussels day after day, starting in the morning and finishing in the evening, telling them that Brussels is under the Commission ruled by bureaucrats, technocrats and non-elected people, then you can’t be surprised by the result.
“I like him [Cameron] as a person though he was behaving to me in a certain way – our friendship will remain. That is the only thing that will remain.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk was more conciliatory, saying, “The negative effects are less negative than we expected before Brexit.
“The conversation was calm and measured. Leaders understand time needed to allow the dust to settle in the UK.”
But he added, “Brexit means substantial variables in the UK with possible negative spillover across the whole world.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who holds the rotating presidency, added, “We have to accept that the negotiation will be time consuming, complex and I hope that they will be done in an amicable manner.
“We can’t afford to ignore this wake-up call.“
However, one EU diplomat warned ominously, “The European Union doesn’t have an identity, but now it has one thing in common: the problem of the British.”
He added, “The EU has bent over backwards to give [Cameron] the best chance in the referendum.
“We gave him the best possible deal. We bent over backwards six times for him.
Asked if anyone got Cameron a leaving present, the diplomat said: “Yeah, a dinner”.