Europe angrily demanded a quick divorce as sparks flew Saturday over Britain’s seismic vote to abandon the EU, toppling Prime Minister David Cameron, pounding world markets and fracturing the island nation.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called for rushing Britain out of the door as the bloc grappled with the impending loss of one of the world’s top economies, the first defection in its 60-year history.
Cameron announced Friday he would resign by October and let his successor lead the exit negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets out a two-year time-frame to leave.
“I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination,” the outgoing prime minister said as sterling, global stocks and oil prices plummeted.
Britons, many worried about immigration and financial insecurity, cast aside the prime minister’s warnings of isolation and an economic disaster, voting 52%-48% in favour of “Brexit” in Thursday’s referendum.
Moody’s cut Britain’s credit rating outlook to “negative”, warning of the economic threat to the country.
“I do not understand why the British government needs until October to decide whether to send the divorce letter to Brussels,” Juncker told German broadcaster ARD on Friday evening.
“I’d like it immediately,” he added.
“It is not an amicable divorce but it was also not an intimate love affair,” he said.
Foreign ministers of the six original EU members -- Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- gathered in Berlin for the first in a series of emergency meetings over the next week triggered by Britain’s decision.
“We can’t allow ourselves to slip into depression and inaction after this referendum,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said as he entered the meeting at a lakeside villa.
The Franco-German axis at the heart of the bloc, which was born out of a determination to forge lasting peace after two world wars, will propose “concrete solutions” to make the EU more effective, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told AFP.
EU leaders will open a two-day Brussels summit on the crisis on Tuesday.
Britain faced a historic break-up threat, too, as Scotland refused to be willingly dragged out of the 28-nation European Union when more than 60 percent of its people voted to stay in.
Scotland’s parliament held an emergency meeting Saturday.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared ahead of the gathering that a second Scottish independence vote was now “highly likely” after a 2014 referendum backed staying in the UK.
The vote, the culmination of an often poisonous campaign, exposed deep divides across British society, including between what The Independent newspaper called “those doing well from globalisation and those ‘left behind’ and not seeing the benefits in jobs or wages”.
Young people, graduates, and big cities tended to favour “Remain”. Elder, less educated people and rural populations were more likely to back “Brexit”.
“I am worried, really sick for my children’s prospects,” said Lindsey Brett, a 57-year-old secretarial worker in central London.
“I am worried about all aspects: what it is going to do with our relations with the rest of Europe, with the rest of the world,” she added.
“I was expecting a Remain vote. I did not think we would come out.”
Many others struggled to accept the outcome, too. More than 800,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition calling for a second referendum.
The referendum result caused the pound to fall to a 31-year low of $1.3229 at one point but it recovered some ground after the Bank of England said it stood ready to pump £250 billion ($370 billion, 326 billion euros) into the financial system to avert a crisis.
‘Take a bow’
European stock markets dropped around eight percent at opening before recovering later, while British bank shares lost a quarter of their value in morning trade.
London’s FTSE 100 index recovered to close down 3.2 percent. US stocks dived, with both the Dow and S&P 500 closing down more than three percent.
Britain’s rejection of the EU is being seen as a victory for the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Brexit campaign, a feature of growing populism across Europe.
“Take a bow, Britain!”, eurosceptic newspaper the Daily Mail wrote across its front page on Saturday.
“It was the day the quiet people of Britain rose up against an arrogant, out-of-touch political class and a contemptuous Brussels elite,” it added.
The British vote will stoke fears of a domino-effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc.
Dutch far-right MP Geert Wilders and French National Front leader Marine Le Pen immediately called for referendums on EU membership in their own countries.