Stung by the results of Thursday’s Brexit referendum in the UK, EU officials and other European leaders are calling for Britain to leave as quickly as possible, and under terms that give no special treatment.
Spawning partly from frustration that their warnings were ignored by 52% of British voters, and partly from a need to dissuade other nations from following the UK out of the EU, some leaders are also calling for punitive measures to be taken against Britain in exit negotiations.
Britain must be made an example of.
If other EU member states started thinking something like this is possible, the Union would soon fracture. EU officials and heads of state feel that they must make the point that leaving the EU is a Bad Thing™, while everyone is in a bit of a shock. This explains the litany of press conferences emphasizing that the UKs exit should happen as fast as possible.
Pulling The Rug From Under Boris
Ex-London mayor and the TV face of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson reiterated a Leave talking point Friday morning when he told reporters “In voting to leave the EU, it is vital to stress there is no need for haste, and as the prime minister has said, nothing will change in the short term except how to give effect to the will of the people and to extricate this country from the supranational system. There is no need to invoke article 50.”
This was a major selling point for Leave advocates during the referendum campaign. Yet, the notion that the UK could stop paying EU dues and ignore EU laws, while still participating in the Single Market was nothing but a rose-tinted view of a post-Brexit world. Such dreams were quickly quashed, as European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and European Council President Donald Tusk held a press conference to call for the UK “to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be. Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty”.
EU: Tired of Playing Games
Delay seemed to be exactly what Britain was aiming for, when UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation Friday morning, but revealed that a successor would not be chosen until October. He also said that Article 50 would not be invoked by Britain until the new Prime Minister takes office.
President Schulz greeted the news by saying “The European Union as a whole was taken as a hostage by a party internal fight of the Tories, and I’m not satisfied today to listen that he wants to step down only in October and once more everything is put on hold until the Tories have decided about the next prime minister.”
This sentiment was echoed by party leaders in the European Parliament. European Peoples’ Party leaders Marcus Weber and Joseph Daul head up the European Parliament’s largest block. They said “There cannot be any special treatment for the United Kingdom. The British people have expressed their wish to leave the EU. Leave means leave. The times of cherry-picking are over.”
Singing the Single Market Blues
Another plank of the Leave platform was that leaving the EU didn’t mean leaving the Single Market. Brexit leaders said that the UK could get the same deal as Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland, where they were allowed in the common market despite not being EU members.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, known for his tenacity in negotiations shot down such ideas, warning that the UK would never again be allowed access to the EU Single Market in the event of a Brexit. Schauble said in an interview that such a decision would be made by the British people, by their votes on the referendum. “If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”
EU official Jean-Claude Piris agreed, saying that the expectations of Britons who voted for Brexit that the nation would be able to stay in the single marker while closing its borders was the equivalent of believing in Father Christmas. EU Parliament President Schulz agreed that the UK had lost its place in the Single Market: “Britain has just cut its ties with that market. That’ll have consequences, and I don’t believe other countries will be encouraged to follow that dangerous path.”
The Vote Was About Immigrants? Well, Here They Are!
Anti-immigration sentiment was a strong undercurrent in the Leave campaign. Those espousing a Brexit said it would allow the UK to shut its borders against the migrant tide that was washing over Europe.
With a successful Brexit vote, French officials are calling for a renegotiation of the Touquet border agreement between France and the UK, with the goal of moving the massive migrant tent cities around Calais across the Channel to England. Again, knowing that any trade agreement or treaty between the EU and the UK most be ratified by all 27 EU members, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart told reporters “The British must take on the consequences of their choice. We are in a strong position to push, to press this request for a review and we are asking the President to bring his weight (to the issue). “We must put everything on the table and there must be an element of division, of sharing.”
Glimmer of Hope for the EU
Some of those “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels” that Boris and Farage were ranting about have been angling to use the Brexit as an excuse for a power grab. But instead of doubling down and attempting to force their “ever closer union” upon the 27 remaining member states, some officials are declaring this a wake-up call that Brussels cannot brush aside, and calling for substantial reforms.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on EU officials and committees to heed the unrest across the continent that the Brexit tapped into: “More and more often we see ourselves confronted with fundamental doubts about the current direction of European integration. That doesn’t just apply to Britain, but in various forms to all member states. We therefore have to ensure that citizens get a concrete sense of how the European Union contributes to improving their own personal lives. That’s a task for the EU institutions as well as the member states.”
Likewise, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said that the EU needed “a reform process with a clear direction“, focusing on unemployment and kickstarting a moribund joint economy. These ideas have been echoed by ECB president Mario Draghi and others. The Netherlands is considered by many to be the nation most likely to follow Britain out the EU door. Political experts there have been warning “Frustration with the EU is on the rise everywhere, and it is no surprise that the referendum should coincide with the eurocrisis and the migration crisis.”
The future of the EU will likely hinge on the reformers beating back the “concentration” members in their own organization, AND show real progress to a very disgruntled population in both Northern and Southern Europe before more “exits” occur.
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