EU Leaders Say U.K. Needs to Leave the EU as Soon as Possible

Jean-Claude Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Belgium on June 24. Juncker says the EU must pull together in the face of current difficulties within the bloc. Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Senior EU officials have confirmed that following the U.K.'s vote to leave the EU, it has to exit the bloc as soon as possible. While they expressed regret that the U.K. had opted for Brexit, they said that any delay could affect European security.

Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament told The Guardian that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to delay negotiations until the Conservative party has elected his successor is not something that Schulz supports. ( Cameron announced his resignation Friday morning following the results of the vote.)

"Uncertainty is the opposite of what we need," Schulz said, adding that it was difficult to accept that "a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the [Conservative] party." Schulz said that EU lawyers are investigating whether they can force the U.K. to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty , the exit mechanism for it to leave the EU.

Cameron had planned for his successor to invoke Article 50—though during the referendum campaign he had said he would implement it immediately in the event of Brexit. Once it's activated, the U.K. and the EU have two years to finalize negotiations on the country's departure.

Earlier Schulz released a joint statement with Donald Tusk, the president of the European council; Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission; and Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands and current president of the EU.

"We now expect the United Kingdom government to give effect to this decision of the British people as soon as possible, however painful that process may be," the statement read. "Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty…We stand ready to launch negotiations swiftly with the United Kingdom regarding the terms and conditions of its withdrawal from the European Union."

The four also added that a deal, which Cameron negotiated with the EU in February to try and gain greater autonomy and so stave off a Brexit, would no longer stand. "As agreed, the 'New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union'...will now not take effect and ceases to exist. There will be no renegotiation," the statement read.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande have both expressed regret over the U.K.'s decision to go. They made it clear, however that their focus is to shore up the EU and prevent other member states from trying to leave.

Campaigners in the Netherlands, France and Italy have all expressed a desire to hold their own referendums on leaving the EU.

The EU's 27 remaining countries are due to meet next week to discuss the consequences of Brexit. This is the first time that a sovereign country has voted to leave the bloc.

The U.K.'s departure is likely to have huge ramifications for the EU. Britain was the bloc's second-largest economy and biggest military power.

The pair now have to agree on the ending of U.K. payments to the EU budget. They also have decide the status of British people living in the EU and EU citizens living in the U.K.