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European Parliament boss brands Brexit 'a disaster' for EU and the UK

Published 23/09/2016

Boris Johnson has suggested Brexit talks will begin by early 2017
Boris Johnson has suggested Brexit talks will begin by early 2017

The president of the European Parliament said the UK Government was in "no way prepared" for Britain to vote to leave the EU and is unsure when it wants to begin formal Brexit negotiations.

Martin Schulz has pressed Theresa May to trigger Article 50 and start talks as soon as possible so they do not drag on and clash with EU elections in 2019.

The president, who met with Mrs May in Downing Street on Thursday, said Brexit is a "disaster" for Britain and the EU.

He hit out at the campaign to leave which he said had divided Britain like no other, and said he was alarmed by the recent upsurge in xenophobia in the country.

Mr Schulz said he originally wanted Britain to trigger Article 50 immediately after the referendum, but it soon became clear it would take longer as the Government was unprepared for the Leave vote.

Speaking during a lecture at the London School of Economics, he said: "It is absolutely clear, and it became for me every day clearer, the complexity of the whole exercise is enormous.

"And what we saw was a Government here in London expected a majority for staying in.

"And they were, it was my feeling, no way prepared for the Leave majority."

He said that meant Britain needed time to draw up plans to formally sever ties with the EU, and to decide what type of relationship it wants with the bloc following Brexit.

But he suggested he is not leaving Britain with much more of an idea of what Brexit will look like.

He said: "Honestly, I leave London with a feeling that the Government is undecided about how and when they should trigger Article 50, also with the feeling that they perceive, more and more, the European side - the 27 institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg - can't wait too long."

His intervention comes after Boris Johnson said he expects the Government to trigger Article 50 early next year.

However, the Foreign Secretary was immediately rebuked by Mrs May for making the statement, with her spokesman swiftly insisting that the Government will only say it will not start negotiations this year.

In an hour-long talk and question and answer session about Brexit and the future of the EU, Mr Schulz said Britain's departure is a blow but may allow the remaining member states to pursue greater integration.

He said Britain's decision to leave "is a failure" and the result was "lose lose" for the UK and the EU.

He said: "A G7 country, the second economy of the European single market, a permanent veto of the security council leaving the European Union is a disaster for us and for the United Kingdom."

In a strongly-worded attack Mr Schulz blamed the nastiness of the Leave campaign for the death of Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley & Spen who was killed during the campaign.

He told the audience: "Who would have anticipated precisely what came next - that the campaign here in your country would get so nasty that a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, Jo Cox, would be brutally murdered in broad daylight for her political convictions."

A growing number of European politicians have spoken out to condemn the rise in racism and hate crime which has emerged in the aftermath of the referendum.

The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, used his State of the Union address to MEPs to condemn attacks on Polish people in the UK following the killing of Arkadiusz Jozwik, 40, in Harlow in Essex last month.

He said: "We Europeans can never accept Polish workers being beaten up, harassed or even murdered in the streets of Essex."

Mr Schulz hit out at the "damaging and also dangerous" rhetoric used in the referendum campaign and the "shameless use of lies".

He said the vote had "divided British society like no other event I can think of".

He said: "Many people are looking on with concern at the rise in xenophobic violence and hate crime over here."

He added: "The only correct attitude towards such violence is zero tolerance."

People across Britain and Europe are fed up at growing inequality and this is a challenge all governments have to tackle, he said, adding that the Brexit vote was "a loud and clear warning signal for the EU as a whole to reform".

But he also warned against allowing populist and nationalist groups across the continent to hijack this feeling to peddle their own views.

He conceded that many people voted for Brexit to stem immigration, but said it is wrong to "sacrifice single market access to the altar of migration".

The president also stressed that the free movement of goods, people and services across the EU are inseparable, and Britain cannot have access to one without the others.

He also called for EU citizens "unwittingly caught up" in Brexit to have their rights guaranteed.

Singling out trade as the most crucial issue for a UK facing Brexit, he said negotiating new deals will be tricky and that some firms have already been put off investing in Britain because of uncertainty surrounding the exit.

He added: "Many commentators think that the EU without Britain will be a less liberal place, I disagree.

"I think the real question has to be out to British politicians and the British public, will Britain outside the EU remain the outward looking nation so many of us know?"

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