Britain pressured to begin pullout
European leaders have made it clear to British Prime Minister David Cameron that they will not tolerate an indefinite delay to the start of the process of arranging Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Politicians in Brussels queued up yesterday to urge Cameron to push ahead with the Article 50 process as early as possible.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker set the tone for Cameron’s final EU summit by announcing that he had banned his officials from having contact with British diplomats over Britain’s new relationship with the EU until the article had been triggered.
‘‘Married or divorced, but not something in between,’’ Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s prime minister, said. ‘‘We are not on Facebook with ‘It’s complicated’ as a status.’’
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel reached for the same marital metaphor. ‘‘You can’t say, ‘I want a divorce but I will live with you for a while until I make my mind up’.’’
With Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, due to arrive in Brussels to open talks over a separate negotiation aimed at keeping Scotland in the EU, Michel warned that the price of Cameron’s bet could include the breakup of the United Kingdom itself.
‘‘He took a very big risk with the referendum. Now there is a bill for the UK, including the situation with Scotland. It will be very difficult to keep the UK united.’’
Michel echoed the hard line taken by most other European leaders that the UK should be shown to have suffered damaging consequences, to prevent others from seeking to leave.
‘‘We cannot send the message that Britain can be out of Europe without any inconvenience and enjoying all the benefits.’’
In a sign of the coming economic competition between the UK and its former partners, he invited companies worried about the vote’s impact to relocate.
‘‘Brexit means problems for companies worried about the future. It may be time to go to Belgium,’’ he said. ‘‘They are welcome.’’
Cameron flew home from Brussels before a meeting between the other 27 EU leaders, at which they were to start laying out their negotiating position with Britain.
The new British prime minister, set to be announced on September 9, will not be invited to a special summit in Bratislava, Slovakia that month. There is no sign yet that the 27 leaders are ready to talk about future migration curbs.
In Brussels, senior figures are divided over whether Cameron should have been given more concessions when he pressed for migration controls in answer to British voters’ concerns over record inward flows of economic migrants from a eurozone in crisis.
Cameron was warned off asking for firm quotas by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in a key speech on immigration reform in November 2014. His decision to rely instead on a package of restrictions to migrants’ benefits is regarded by many as a key miscalculation. Voters did not believe it would significantly reduce numbers.
‘‘Many people did not see the repeated British warnings about losing the referendum as credible,’’ one EU diplomat admitted. ‘‘They did not believe that it would be lost on free movement and migration. People didn’t take it anything like seriously enough.’’
A commission source defended its refusal to be more flexible over immigration. ‘‘There was a strong camp who said the settlement on free movement went too far, was too generous. It was already almost unacceptable to many countries.’’
Meanwhile, former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle is emerging as the unity candidate to challenge for the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party, after MPs overwhelmingly backed a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
In an unprecedented display of defiance, Corbyn refused to quit despite three-quarters of his MPs backing the no-confidence motion in his leadership, and a growing exodus of shadow ministers.
Of Labour’s 229 MPs, 172 said they had no confidence in Corbyn. Only 40 supported him; four spoilt their ballot papers; and 13 did not take part in the secret vote.
The tally of frontbenchers and aides to have quit their posts has grown to almost 60. The Labour leader does not have enough loyal MPs to fill all the roles.
There were even reports that some MPs appointed to the shadow cabinet this week to replace resigning colleagues may themselves quit.
Eagle, 55, is the daughter of a Yorkshire printworker. She read philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Oxford and was Labour’s first openly lesbian MP. Her twin sister, Maria, is also a Labour MP.
The Scottish National Party is demanding to be installed as Her Majesty’s official opposition, declaring Labour a ‘‘crisis-ridden shambles’’ that is unfit for the role
‘‘You can’t say, ‘I want a divorce but I will live with you for a while until I make my mind up’.’’ Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel
and unable to fulfil its obligations. The Scottish nationalists cite rules in the parliamentary rule book that the official opposition to the government must be ‘‘prepared . . . to assume power’’.
Eagle, who resigned as shadow business secretary and shadow first secretary of state on Tuesday, and Tom Watson, Labour’s influential deputy leader, are seen as the two unity candidates capable of wrestling control of the leadership from Corbyn.
Former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is also considering a bid.
Protesters gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday to demonstrate against the European Union referendum result.