EU Chiefs ‘Held Hostage’ by U.K. Tell Cameron to Spell Out Goals

Commentary, News
  • Prime Minister Cameron joins 27 other leaders in Brussels
  • ‘Psychologically, Brexit is already in place,’ Lithuania says


European Union leaders pressed the U.K. to spell out how it wants to move forward after voting to leave the bloc, saying uncertainty surrounding the process risks damaging them all.

As David Cameron attended what is probably his last EU summit as prime minister, fellow government chiefs warned that delaying the period before the U.K. formally activates the EU’s exit mechanism will prevent the start of negotiations over any future relationship. Cameron is due to brief his 27 counterparts on the referendum outcome later on Tuesday.

“The uncertainty we have right now is no good for anyone,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven told reporters in Brussels as he arrived for the two-day summit. “They should make up their mind as quick as possible.”

Leaders signaled a growing frustration across Europe that the June 23 referendum has left a power vacuum in the U.K. and the whole EU in a state of limbo. Cameron has said a decision to start the EU withdrawal process is for his successor to make, yet as long as there’s no successor in place, his counterparts have no one else to talk to. Cameron’s Conservatives aim to elect a new party leader by early September.

“We’re all waiting to get a clear answer,” said Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen.

Leaders from Britain’s traditional allies in the Netherlands and the Baltic states said they understand the need for a period of reflection and for Britain to overcome its political upheaval before any negotiations can start. They still insisted the U.K. needs to act as fast as possible to ensure stability across the region after financial markets tumbled.

‘Held Hostage’

“The EU can’t afford being held hostage by the U.K. political crisis for months,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.

Four months after Cameron won a deal from his fellow leaders on reforms to the U.K.’s terms of EU membership, he returns to their dinner table humbled by his electorate in a self-inflicted defeat that prompted a selloff in stocks and the pound. While he can’t say for sure what sort of ties with Europe the next prime minister will seek, Cameron will be asked for an indication.

“I’ll be explaining that Britain will be leaving the European Union but I want that process to be as constructive as possible,” Cameron said as he arrived. “I hope the outcome can be as constructive as possible because, of course, while we’re leaving the European Union, we mustn’t be turning our backs on Europe.”

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite called for calm heads and more time. Asked what the message for Cameron would be, she said it was up to him to “say something to us, not us to him.”

“Psychologically, Brexit is already in place,” she said.

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