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European Leaders Lament Britain’s Choice to Leave EU


European Council President Donald Tusk prepares to address a media conference at the EU Council building in Brussels on June 24, 2016.

The British people on Friday voted by a narrow margin to break away from the European Union, a move that some European leaders are labelling a grave mistake.

"We take note of the British people's decision with regret," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "There is no doubt that this is a blow to Europe and to the European unification process."

Merkel added that she will host talks with the leaders of France and Italy, and European Council president Donald Tusk, in Berlin on Monday.

Tusk said Friday that Britain made a mistake in leaving the EU, which is the world’s largest single market. “That’ll have consequences,” he said. “And I don’t believe other countries will be encouraged to follow that dangerous path.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he knows Britain "will remain a strong and committed NATO ally, and will continue to play its leading role" in the alliance, which he said in a statement "remains committed to closer cooperation with the European Union."

FILE - German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, June 22, 2016.
FILE - German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, June 22, 2016.

'Bad day' for Europe

In a message posted on his official Twitter account, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel described the vote as a “bad day for Europe.”

France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault similarly took to Twitter to air his displeasure with the vote, saying he was “sad for the United Kingdom.”

“Europe will continue but it must react and rediscover the confidence of its peoples. It’s urgent,” Ayrault said.

Obama briefed on vote result

In Washington, the White House said in a statement that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the results from the referendum.

"We expect the President will have an opportunity to speak to Prime Minister (David) Cameron over the course of the next day, and we will release further comment as soon as appropriate," the statement read.

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the EU to continue to be "a solid partner" for the United Nations, and the United Kingdom "to continue to exercise its leadership in many areas."

High voter turnout

More than 70 percent of registered voters participated in the referendum, which passed by a margin of nearly four percent. The referendum was seen by many “Leave” supporters as reflecting British sentiment on immigration, sovereignty, security and Britain’s economic future.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president, lauded the decision to leave the EU, calling it a vote to "reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy."

"People want to take their country back and they want to have independence in a sense. And you see it with Europe, all over Europe," said Trump, who was in Scotland to open a golf course.

Earlier Friday, Trump likened his candidacy to the referendum vote, and said should he win the presidency in November, he would work to strengthen ties between the U.S. and an independent Britain.

Looking forward, Trump likened his candidacy to the referendum vote, and said should he win the presidency in November, he would work to strengthen ties between the U.S. and an independent Britain

"Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people," he said in a statement.

Several European leaders saw the successful British EU exit as an opportunity to push for similar referendums in their countries, including France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who hailed the “Brexit” decision as a “victory for freedom.”

“As I have been asking for years we must now have the same referendum in France and EU countries,” the National Front leader said on Twitter.

FILE - Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-Islam Freedom Party.
FILE - Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-Islam Freedom Party.

Netherlands wants referendum

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders called for the Netherlands to hold a referendum on its EU membership shortly after news broke of the results. Wilders, who is currently leading in opinion polls, said if he is elected prime minister in the country’s March general election, he will call for a referendum.

“We want be in charge of our own country, our own money, our own borders, and our own immigration policy,” he said in a statement. “If I become prime minister, there will be a referendum in the Netherlands on leaving the European Union as well. Let the Dutch people decide.”

A survey conducted this week in the Netherlands by the Een Vandaag television channel showed the 54 percent of Dutch people are in favor of a referendum.

Following the vote in Britain, leaders in and around Europe sought to soothe the fears of their own people after initial indications showed economic markets around the world tanking. Euro stocks and markets in Britain, France and Germany dropped by 7 to 10 percent shortly after opening, while U.S. futures indicate a sharp drop is expected when markets open.

Spain's acting Prime Minister and Popular Party candidate, Mariano Rajoy speaks in Seville, Spain, June 23, 2016.
Spain's acting Prime Minister and Popular Party candidate, Mariano Rajoy speaks in Seville, Spain, June 23, 2016.

In Spain, a call to keep calm

Acting Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy sent a message of "serenity and tranquility" to the Spanish people, and encouraged them not to promote uncertainty in the face of Britain's exit.

In Russia, the Kremlin said it hopes the EU will continue to be an economic powerhouse and called for strengthened relations with Britain.

"We have a pretty heavy burden of uneasy ties with Great Britain," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We hope that in the new realities, an understanding of the need for good relations with our country will prevail."

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