Britain's divorce from the EU could get messy

Some EU countries are demanding a quick and dirty split, saying "months of uncertainty" could allow "leave" movements to take hold in other member states.
June 25, 2016, 2:30pm
Photo by Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

With the results of the United Kingdom's referendum on its European Union membership starting to sink in like a bad hangover, European leaders are calling for the divorce talks to begin — and things could get messy.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced his plans to resign on Friday after Britons voted 52-48 to exit the EU. Cameron's resignation and the Brexit vote sent shockwaves across global stock markets and triggered the most dramatic one-day drop in the history of Britain's currency, the pound sterling.

Cameron said he would stay on and help "guide the ship" until October while the Tories choose their new leader, and said it would be his successor's responsibility to officially notify the EU of its plans to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would trigger two years of divorce proceedings from the other 27 members.

Until the Article 50 notification is made, the UK continues to a member of the EU, as if the referendum never took place to begin with.

Related: So the Brexit happened. Now what?

But some EU countries think that Britain should plan to pack its bags as soon as possible, demanding Article 50 notification sooner rather than later. Paris is leading demands for a quick and dirty split, saying that "months of uncertainty" could create windows of opportunity for "leave" movements to take hold in other member states.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned, "We have to give a new sense to Europe, otherwise populism will fill the gap."

"The process should get underway as soon as possible so that we are not left in limbo but rather can concentrate on the future of Europe," German Foreign MInister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, according to Reuters, after a meeting with his colleagues from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, the six founding members of the EU.

'The process should get underway as soon as possible so that we are not left in limbo but rather can concentrate on the future of Europe.'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking a more measured approach. She says there is no urgency for Britain to leave, but "quite honestly, it should not take ages."

Some European leaders warned of Brexit's potential domino effect, particularly as Eurosceptic, populist, anti-establishment parties garner some success with voters across the bloc.

In France, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen applauded the UK's decision to leave the EU. Le Pen is expected to perform strongly in next year's presidential election.

Related: The Texit: Britain's EU departure is inspiring more independence movements

Slovakia's far-right People's Party on Saturday launched a petition for their own referendum on whether to leave the EU. "Citizens of Great Britain have decided to refuse the diktat from Brussels," it said. "It is high time for Slovakia to leave the sinking European 'Titanic' as well."

The British pound tumbled to levels last seen in 1985, sparking concerns that the decision to leave the EU could threaten investment in the world's fifth largest economy and undermine its role as a global financial capital. Britain's financial industry, which employs 2.2 million people, could potentially lose the right to serve European clients.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen

Reuters contributed to this report

Watch: Majority 'Remain' London reacts to Britain leaving the EU