British politics in turmoil as Brexit talks loom

A photo provided by the British Ministry of Defence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, the day after his resignation following the Brexit win in the referendum, attending the Armed Forces Day Parade in the coastal town of Cleethorpes in Lincoln
A photo provided by the British Ministry of Defence of British Prime Minister David Cameron, the day after his resignation following the Brexit win in the referendum, attending the Armed Forces Day Parade in the coastal town of Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire in central, east England on June 25, 2016 PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's political crisis deepened on Sunday (June 26) amid party infighting in London and new polls showing bolstered support for Scottish independence, even as Brussels seeks a quick divorce after a seismic vote to leave the bloc.

Two days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation after losing Thursday's referendum, the race to succeed him and and a revolt in the opposition Labour party left the political classes locked in infighting.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was due in London and Brussels for crisis talks on Monday, while the leaders of Germany, France and Italy are also meeting in Berlin.

EU powers have called for a swift divorce amid fears of a domino effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the 28-nation alliance.

But Cameron has said negotiations on Britain's departure must wait until a successor is chosen from his Conservative party, which could be as late as October.

The head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, warned on Sunday that a period of limbo would "lead to even more insecurity and thus endanger jobs".

The vote wiped US$2.1 trillion (S$2.8 trillion) from global equity markets Friday amid fears of a new threat to the global economy.

Schulz told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that a summit of EU leaders on Tuesday, which Cameron will attend, was the "right time" to begin exit proceedings.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff said however that there was no rush to show Britain the door, and indicated that the process might not start for months.

"The political leadership in London should have the chance to reconsider once again the consequences of a withdrawal," Peter Altmaier told the RND media group.

Merkel herself, who will host French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and EU President Donald Tusk in Berlin on Monday, has said there is "no reason to be nasty in the negotiations".

During a stopover in Rome on Sunday, Kerry expressed regret at Britain's decision to become the first EU nation to leave the bloc - and vowed Washington would maintain close ties with the 28-country alliance.

"Brexit and the changes that are now being thought through have to be thought through in the context of the interests and values that bind us together with the EU," he said.

Britons cast aside warnings of isolation and economic disaster to vote 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of quitting the EU in Thursday's referendum.

The historic vote, fought on the battlefronts of the economy and immigration, exposed deep divisions in the country, which were particularly keenly felt in Scotland.

Scotland voted by 62 percent to stay in the EU, and the prospect of being pulled out against their will has renewed support for a second independence referendum, less than two years after they chose to stay in the United Kingdom in a referendum in September 2014.

"The UK that Scotland voted to stay in in 2014 does not exist any more," First Minister and Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told BBC television Sunday.

Two polls on Sunday put support for Scottish independence at 59 percent and 52 percent respectively. In the 2014 referendum, 55 percent voted against it.

Sturgeon has said a second independence vote was now "highly likely", and a meeting of her cabinet on Saturday agreed to start drawing up the necessary legislation.

She hinted that the Scottish government could even use legal means to try to block Britain's exit from the EU, although experts said this was unlikely.

Elsewhere, 3.2 million Britons signed a petition on an official government website pleading for a new vote.

The House of Commons petitions committee said it had removed 77,000 which were "added fraudulently", but asid it would be discussed by MPs at a meeting next week.

Likely candidates to succeed Cameron, including Brexit campaigner and former London mayor Boris Johnson, began sounding out support over the weekend.

The referendum decision has also lit a fuse under disgruntled members of the Labour party, many of whom have been unhappy with Corbyn's leadership since he took office last September.

Support for leaving the European Union was strong across northern England, the Midlands and Wales, including many areas that traditionally vote Labour.

The party leadership had campaigned to stay in the EU, but critics accuse Corbyn of failing to reach out to working-class voters drawn in by the "Leave" camp's anti-establishment rhetoric.

After a symbolic vote of no confidence on Friday against Corbyn, he sacked foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn late Saturday for challenging his leadership.

That decision sparked a string of resignations among members of the shadow cabinet.

"I do not believe you have the capacity to shape the answers our country is demanding," wrote one, health spokeswoman Heidi Alexander, in a letter to Corbyn.

But allies of the veteran socialist said he had no plans to step down.

"He was elected nine months ago, the biggest mandate of any political leader in our country, and he is not going anywhere," finance spokesman John McDonnell told the BBC.

The motion of no confidence is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party on Monday.

Any challenger would need the support of 20 percent of the party's 229 MPs and it would then be put to party members.