Britain, EU at odds over timing of divorce talks

Author: Associated Press

LONDON (AP) – Britain and the EU haven’t even begun divorce talks but they are already bickering, as political and economic shockwaves from the British vote spread around the world.

EU diplomats meeting in Berlin told Britain to hurry up and trigger the formal exit process – something the U.K. has said won’t happen for several months.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said “there is a certain urgency … so that we don’t have a period of uncertainty, with financial consequences, political consequences.”

Meanwhile, Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon said her semi-autonomous administration would start immediate talks with the EU to ensure Scotland could remain in the bloc despite the U.K.-wide vote to leave. A majority of Scots backed staying in the union, but a majority in much-larger England voted to quit.

After meeting with her Cabinet in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said “we will seek to enter into immediate discussion” with other EU nations and institutions to “explore possible options to protect Scotland’s place in the EU.”

She said a new referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom is “very much on the table.”

Scotland voted in 2014 to remain a part of the U.K., but that decision was seen by many as conditional on the U.K. remaining in the EU.

The victorious “leave” campaigners in Thursday’s referendum have said there is no rush to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which will begin a two-year exit process to renegotiate trade, business and political links between the U.K. and what will become a 27-nation bloc.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation Friday, said his successor, to be chosen by October, should start the process.

The favorite to succeed him, London Mayor Boris Johnson, has aid there is “no need for haste” – but EU leaders are saying the opposite.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Saturday that the British had voted to leave, and “it doesn’t make any sense to wait until October to try and negotiate the terms of their departure.”

“I would like to get started immediately,” he said.

Juncker said the split was “not an amicable divorce” – adding that it was never “a tight love affair anyway.”

Top diplomats from the European Union’s six founding nations – France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg – met in Berlin for hastily arranged talks and stressed that the exit process should be speedy.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister said he hoped there would be no “cat and mouse” game.

“There must be clarity,” Asselborn told reporters. “The people have spoken and we need to implement this decision.”

The referendum has triggered political and financial turmoil around the world. Stock markets plummeted Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average dropping 611 points, or 3.4 percent, its biggest fall since August.

The pound dropped to its lowest level since 1985, plunging more than 10 percent from about $1.50 to $1.35 before a slight recovery, on concerns that severing ties with the single market will hurt the U.K. economy and undermine London’s position as a global financial center.

Credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the U.K.’s economic outlook from stable to negative, saying Britain faces “a prolonged period of uncertainty … with negative implications for the country’s medium-term growth outlook.”

The vote to leave the EU also caused an earthquake in British politics. The Conservatives are facing a leadership battle to replace Cameron, and some members of the opposition Labour Party also hope to oust their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Many Labour lawmakers were strongly pro-“remain” and accuse the socialist Corbyn, a longtime critic of the EU, of failing to rally Labour supporters behind staying in the bloc.

Labour legislator Frank Field said Saturday that Corbyn “clearly isn’t the right person to actually lead the party into an election because nobody thinks he will actually win.”

“We clearly need somebody who the public think of as an alternative prime minister,” Field told BBC radio.

Corbyn said Saturday he would not resign, and said Britain must react “calmly and rationally” to the divisive referendum result.

Corbyn told a meeting in London Saturday that politicians needed to take seriously voters’ concerns about immigration, which led many to back a British exit from the 28-nation EU.

Corbyn said “we must talk about immigration . but we will never pander to prejudice.”

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