EU founding states want Brexit started 'as soon as possible': Germany

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (3rd from left), with his European counterparts at the Villa Borsig in Berlin, on June 25, 2016.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (3rd from left), with his European counterparts at the Villa Borsig in Berlin, on June 25, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (AFP/REUTERS) - The EU's founding states said on Saturday (June 25) they want Britain to begin leaving the union "as soon as possible" as France urged a new British prime minister to take office quickly.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, hosting the six original states of the European Union in Berlin, said they were in agreement that London must not wait to start the complex procedure of extracting itself from the bloc.

"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 but rather can focus on the future of Europe and the work toward it."

His French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault said it was urgent David Cameron, who on Friday said he would resign by October, clear the way for new leadership to manage the transition out of the union.

"A new prime minister must be designated, that will take a few days," he told reporters at the crisis talks after Britain's shock referendum to quit the EU.

In announcing his resignation, Cameron said it should be his successor who leads the negotiations under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty which sets out a two-year timeframe to leave.


However Steinmeier, Ayrault, the Netherlands' Bert Koenders, Italy's Paolo Gentiloni, Belgium's Didier Reynders and Luxemburg's Jean Asselborn stressed in the German capital that time was of the essence.

"We understand and respect the result (of the referendum) and understand that Britain is now concentrating on Britain," Steinmeier said, flanked by the other ministers.

"But London has a responsibility toward more than just Britain. We must now be allowed to focus on the future of Europe and that means that after the decision taken in Britain, the process by which we negotiate Britain's exit must begin."

Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the negotiations with Britain should not be conducted in such a way as to be seen as a deterrent to other countries, and that there was no hurry for London to trigger the process for leaving.

"Quite honestly, it should not take ages, that is true, but I would not fight now for a short time frame," Merkel told a news conference at a meeting of her party outside Berlin.

On Friday, Former London mayor Boris Johnson, a leading campaigner for Britain to leave the EU and the bookmakers'favourite to replace David Cameron as prime minister, said nothing would change over the short term following the Brexit vote.

Only Britain can invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty required to set in motion the process to exit the bloc. The foreign ministers of both France and Luxembourg warned Britain not to play games by drawing out the process.

"There's no reason to play a cat and mouse game. That would not be respectful after deciding to organise this referendum,"French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told a joint news conference after the meeting of the six in Berlin.

"It's in Britain's interest and in the interest of Europeans not to have a period of uncertainty that would have financial consequences, and that could have economic and political consequences," he said.

Global stock markets plunged on Friday, and sterling saw its biggest one day drop in more than 30 years after Britons voted by 52-48 percent to exit the EU, which it joined more than 40 years ago.

Ratings agency Moody's downgraded its outlook for Britain, saying its creditworthiness was now at greater risk as the country would face substantial challenges to successfully negotiating its exit from the bloc.

In their statement, the six foreign ministers lamented the watershed brought by the Brexit vote.

They said the EU was losing "not just a member state but history, tradition and experience." The ministers also said they would have to deal with varying appetites for European integration among member states in order to meet voters' expectations.

In Colmar in eastern France, French President Francois Hollande echoed their sentiment, saying: "It will be painful for Britain but ... like in all divorces, it will be painful for those who stay behind too."

Merkel also said Britain must say what kind of relationship it wants with the EU before the bloc examines how to respond.

Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said earlier other EU leaders would press Cameron at a summit meeting next week to act quickly: "There will be a lot of pressure on Cameron on Tuesday to move ahead," he said.