BRUSSELS – The European Union's 27 remaining member states will say on Wednesday that the UK's withdrawal must be done in "an orderly fashion" and that any future deal must balance "rights and obligations", according to a draft statement seen by BuzzFeed News.
The draft statement notes that it is up to Britain to notify the EU of its intention to withdraw, but adds "as soon as it is ready to do so" – a clear sign that EU leaders have accepted the UK government's position that exit procedures cannot be triggered until a new prime minister is in place. But, the draft adds: "It would be preferable to do this quickly so as to avoid entering into a prolonged period of uncertainty."
The leaders, who will hold their first meeting without the UK on Wednesday to plan their response to Britain's withdrawal, will also reiterate that there can be "no negotiations of any kind" before notification has taken place.
The tone of the draft statement is warmer than many of the statements that have come out of Brussels since the Brexit vote last week.
The leaders – who say they "deeply regret the outcome of the referendum" but respect the will of the British people – will state: "In the future, we hope to have the UK as a close partner of the EU and we look forward to the UK stating its intentions in this respect."
However, the draft continues: "Any agreement, which will be concluded with the UK as a third country, will have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations."
This refers to access to the single market, which EU leaders are adamant will only be allowed if the UK accepts freedom of movement, but Boris Johnson and other leading Leave campaigners continue to claim that Britain will be able to negotiate a deal that gives full single market access while still allowing the UK to restrict EU migration.
The draft statement goes on to say that the referendum creates a new situation for the EU, but that the remaining member states are “determined to remain united and work in the framework of the EU to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, and find solutions in the interest of our nations and peoples".
While underlining that the EU is a "historic achievement of peace, prosperity and and security", the draft suggests the leaders are ready to reform to counter growing discontent across Europe.
The draft states: "At the same time many people express dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, be it at the European or national level. Europeans expect us to do better when it comes to providing security, prosperity and hope for a better future. We need to deliver on this, not least in the interest of the young."
The statement confirms that the leaders will convene again at an informal meeting in September in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The draft statement shows that the EU is ready to move on without Britain, but that it has accepted the political crisis in the UK means there will be no movement for several months.
A meeting over dinner on Tuesday night at David Cameron's final European Council in Brussels was described to BuzzFeed News as "more constructive than expected" by one leader in the room, while another said it was an "emotional gathering".
There was recognition that Britain needs time to get its house in order. "The UK does not know what it wants from its relationship with the EU," one source in the room told BuzzFeed News.
Most heads of government/state avoided the confrontational stance on the timing of disengagement, which had been advocated by the European parliament and the European Commission, sensitive instead to the fact that Britain was going through a "crisis".
Nevertheless, Cameron made clear that the decision taken by the British people last week to leave the EU will be carried through.
"Leaders understand that some time is now needed to allow the dust to settle in the UK. But they also expect the intentions of the UK government to be specified as soon as possible," Donald Tusk, the council president, said in his closing remarks.
The expectation is now for a new British prime minister to be in place in September around the time the remaining 27 plot the future of an EU without the UK at a special meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia. Europe's leaders will leave Brussels with the understanding that the new British prime minister will trigger Article 50 shortly after assuming office.
Cameron had words of warning for his successor. "You cannot have the full benefits of membership, without the costs. That is something the next government will need to think through," the prime minister said during a packed press conference. He also reminded everyone that Britain is a fully fledged member of the EU until it has actually left.
Elsewhere, German chancellor Angela Merkel said she saw no way last Thursday's decision could be reversed. "It’s not the time for wishful thinking but for looking at reality," she told journalists.
Merkel and French president François Hollande dismissed any suggestion that Britain would be able to both access the single market and restrict freedom of movement, despite Cameron warning them that a failure to address concerns about migration was to blame for losing the referendum.
Alberto Nardelli is Europe editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alberto Nardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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