Brexit: reaction in France and around Europe
Britain’s vote to leave the EU was greeted with sadness in mainland Europe but also, among euro-sceptics in member states, a sense of excitement. A timeline of reactions is below.
Far right, anti-EU political leaders in the Netherlands and France seized upon the outcome to intensify demands for referendums in their own countries. Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s Front National and a strong contender for the presidency in the 2017 elections, described the result as a victory for freedom.
But the German chancellor Angela Merkel summed up mainstream political reaction by saying her government noted the win for Brexit “with regret”.
There was broad recognition that the EU could not shrug off the vote, in the words of Alain Juppe, a former French prime minister who could rival Miss Le Pen in the second round runoff next year, “as if nothing has happened”.
Mr Juppe called for an end to EU enlargement, which would end Turkey’s attempt to join.
The vote leaves businesses on both sides of the English Channel apprehensive. Two French giants, Société Générale and the plane maker Airbus, pledged continuing commitment to their interests in and links with the UK.
But Olivier Campenon, the president of the Anglo-French Chamber of Commerce in Paris, admitted Brexit was a major blow for the whole of Europe, thrusting Britain and the EU “into the unknown”.
Timeline of reactions to the UK vote to leave the EU:
All times UAE
The German chancellor Angela Merkel said her government took note of the British people’s decision “with regret”. “There is no doubt that this is a blow to Europe and to the European unification process,” she said, adding that German’s history gave it a “particular interest and responsibility” to ensure the project succeeded.
Gerard Larcher, the president of France’s upper house, the Senate, issued a statement entitled “Bye bye England” and called for the European project to be relaunched, “urgently reinventing its future for the nations that compose it … The time for enlargement should be suspended and the Franco-German axis, undermined by the weakening of our country, must regain its leading role.
The French president François Hollande will later today chair what is being called in Paris a “crisis meeting” of his government following the British referendum vote to leave the EU.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the largest group in the European Parliament, the conservative European People’s Party, said British exit negotiations must be concluded within a maximum of two years. “There cannot be any special treatment,” he tweeted. “Leave means leave.”
Alain Juppe, the former French prime minister and foreign minister and a probable presidential contender in 2017, called for an end to EU enlargement. Mr Juppe, who opposes Turkish entry into the bloc, said: “This is a historic blow for Britain. The people are sovereign, have made their choice and must now manage the challenges they will have to face.” For the EU, the clear message was one of disenchantment with what seemed “an incomprehensible bureaucratic machine, incapable of restoring growth and employment, powerless to control our borders … We can not continue as before. We must write a new page, a new chapter in Europe.”
Spain said it remained committed to the EU and the foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said Brexit raised the possibility of Gibraltar – British since the 18th century – returning to Spanish sovereignty. Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain but the minister said the territory would retain access to the EU’s single market it came under Madrid rule following a period of joint sovereignty.
Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the EU, said the bloc was determined to remain unified. “On behalf of the 27 leaders, I can say that we are determined to keep our unity as 27,” he said in Brussels. “It is a historic moment but for sure not a moment for hysterical reactions.”
Analysts at the international financial research company Capital Economics sought to calm fears that Brexit would destroy the UK economy. “The vote to leave the EU has clearly weakened the near-term outlook for the UK economy,” the firm said. “But we still think that the ultimate damage will be smaller than many estimates have suggested.”
Amid deep anxiety sweeping financial markets, the German and French stock exchanges opened 10 per cent down in Frankfurt, 8 per cent in Paris.
The French news magazine Le Point spoke of a “historic earthquake” for Europe and feared a “Black Friday” for financial markets after international stock exchanges suffered early falls. The magazine said the outcome left Britain a sharply divided country, with pro-Remain voters London, Scotland and Northern Ireland outnumbered by Leave supporters in the north and Wales who had acted defiance of warnings of “disastrous” economic consequences in the event of withdrawal.
The Belgian prime minister Charles Michel called for a EU “conclave” in July to “reaffirm our commitment” to the bloc. “We have to define our priorities and set out a new future for Europe,” he said.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said he would have talks with the German chancellor Angela Merkel on ways of avoiding a “chain reaction”.
Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a tweet posted by his department: “The news from Britain is really sobering. It looks like a sad day for Europe and Britain.”
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament: “We respect the result. Now is the time for us to behave seriously and responsibly. David Cameron has his responsibilities for his country, we have our responsibilities for the future of the EU.” Quoted by the BBC, he added: “You can see what is happening to sterling on the markets. I don’t want the same thing to happen to the euro.”
“A catastrophic result for Britain and also for Europe and Germany, that is especially the German economy,” said Anton Boerner, head of Germany’s foreign trade association, quoted by the BBC. “It is disturbing that the oldest democracy in the world turns its back on us.”
Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel tweeted: “Damn! A bad day for Europe.”
The anti-EU French extreme right was also jubilant. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National party and a certain contender in next year’s presidential elections, on Twitter: “Victory for freedom. As I’ve been urging for years, we must now have the same referendum in France and other EU countries.”
The Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, who wants the Netherlands to leave the EU too, tweeted: “Hurrah for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum! #ByeByeEU.”
As Sky TV’s projection, at 9am UAE time, said the UK had voted to leave, French media highlighted sterling’s most dramatic fall in 31 years. The decrease of more than 10 per cent – even more marked than on the so-called Black Wednesday of September 16 1992, when Britain was forced to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – “seems to confirm the prediction of George Soros [the Hungarian-American financier] of a Black Friday for the British economy,” said Europe 1 radio.
France’s Le Figaro newspaper, speculating on a potential blow from British withdrawal to French fragile hopes of economic recovery, quoted Euler Hermes, a credit insurance division of Germany-based financial services company Allianz SE, as warning the impact on sterling and Britain’s GDP would trigger a “significant fall” in UK imports from the EU zone.