Europe’s leaders appear divided about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the bloc as the president of the European parliament called on the UK government to “deliver now” on the referendum outcome.
As government and EU advisers on Sunday began preparing next week’s crunch two-day Brussels summit, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced plans to travel to the Belgian capital and London on Monday for urgent talks with British and EU officials.
“We expect the British government to deliver now,” the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag. “The summit on Tuesday is the appropriate moment to do so.”
With frustrations mounting at Britain’s seeming reluctance to begin divorce proceedings, German’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called for calm, clear-headed and businesslike discussions while other European capitals, EU leaders and her own government have demanded the UK’s rapid departure.
Merkel said there was no hurry for London to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, beginning a two-year negotiating process leading to Brexit. David Cameron has said he would leave that task to his successor, to be appointed by October.
“It should not take ages, that is true – but I would not fight now for a short time-frame,” Merkel said on Saturday.
Her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said politicians in Britain should “take the time to reconsider the consequences of the Brexit decision - but by that I emphatically do not mean Brexit itself”. Europe should “wait for this to happen with calm”.
The former Finnish prime minister, Alexander Stubb, also said on Sunday that the EU should not push Britain too fast into launching a formal exit procedure. “This will be an extremely complicated set of negotiations, there will be hundreds and thousands of legal, political and economic implications,” Stubb told Reuters.
“After the initial shock, we should now take it easy and be patient, one step at a time. We should not be childish in thinking about punishing the UK.” Britain would end up with a Norway-type deal retaining close economic ties with the EU, but without a say on decision-making, he predicted.
The foreign ministers of the EU’s six founding members, however, demanded Britain start proceedings “as soon as possible” to avoid a long and potentially damaging period of uncertainty.
The Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, told the Volkskrant: “We can’t have the kind of dithering Boris Johnson is suggesting. Everyone wants clarity: people, businesses, financial markets.”
France’s foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, urged Cameron to step down soon, saying: “A new prime minister must be designated – that will take a few days. But there is a certain urgency.” He added: “We have to give a new sense to Europe, otherwise populism will fill the gap.”
The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has also warned London not to drag things out. “It is not an amicable divorce,” he said, “but it was not an intimate love affair anyway.” Talks should start “immediately”, he said.
In a flurry of further diplomatic activity, Donald Tusk, the European council president who will chair the summit, is due to meet France’s president, François Hollande, on Monday morning, then travel to Berlin to meet Merkel and the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, in the afternoon.
Senior representatives – so-called sherpas – of the EU member states were meeting in Brussels on Sunday to prepare the summit. After Britain’s EU commissioner, Jonathan Hill, resigned on Saturday, Juncker plans to meet the remaining 27 on Monday.
London and Brussels have conflicting priorities: the EU wants minimum economic disruption, implying a swift UK exit, and is also concerned that any fresh concessions made to Britain run the risk of a domino effect in other Eurosceptic member states that could end up wrecking the union.
Britain will be eager to obtain the best possible terms for its departure – which are highly unlikely to be negotiated in just two years. Several leading figures in the Vote Leave campaign have said informal talks must precede any formal triggering of the two-year article 50 time limit.
Amid rising irritation in Brussels, EU officials have said London does not need to send a formal letter to begin the procedure but could do so by making a formal statement, possibly at next week’s summit.
Cameron is due to explain the UK’s position at a summit dinner on Tuesday night but will then leave, taking no part in the talks on Wednesday.
France and Germany have reportedly drawn up a 10-page document outlining three key areas – security; migration and refugees; and jobs and growth – for the remaining 27 EU members to address at the summit in an attempt to shore up the 60-year-old union, which faces a risk of unravelling following the body blow of Britain’s vote to leave.
French and German industry groups said on Sunday that Brexit had plunged Europe into “turbulence” and called for stronger political and economic cooperation led by Berlin and Paris.
“Europe must reunite, recover its confidence and go on the offensive,” the leaders of Germany’s powerful BDI and BDA industry groups and France’s Medef employers federation wrote in a joint appeal in the Journal du Dimanche.
Tusk on Saturday appointed a Belgian diplomat, Didier Seeuws, to start work on coordinating future negotiations with Britain.
This article was written by Jon Henley in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Sunday 26th June 2016 14.26 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010