Referendum reaction

European Union leaders

Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, Mark Rutte, Holder of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, issued a joint statement on the outcome of the referendum.

The said that they “regret this decision but respect it. This is an unprecedented situation but we are united in our response. We will stand strong and uphold the EU’s core values of promoting peace and the well-being of its peoples. The Union of 27 Member States will continue.”

They added that they expect the British government to activate Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be. Any delay would unnecessarily prolong uncertainty”.

They confirmed that the UK remains a full member until it leaves the EU, and that the February settlement, which formed the basis of the UK referendum, is no longer valid, and that there will be no renegotiation.


The French President, François Hollande, said Brexit is a “painful choice” that he deeply regrets. He said France will continue working the EU as friends.

He added that Europe needs to show its solidity and strength. He added that “Europe’s deficiencies and people’s loss of confidence in the project [and] the dangers of populism are tremendous… Values of freedom, tolerance and peace must be restated”.

Hollande will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian PM Matteo Renzi and European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels on Monday.

Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls, and Republican party presidential candidate and former PM François Fillon, are calling for a re-focused EU.

Valls said that the British vote was “an electroshock and an explosion across the continent and the world”. He added that Brexit revealed “difficulties that have been ignored for too long [within the EU]. For too long, we have turned a blind eye to warning signals and doubts expressed by European peoples”.

Valls said that Europe must no longer intervene everywhere, all the time, but only where it is efficient and where it is expected: security and border control, and “defence of our economic interests”.

Fillon called for a Europe centred on strategic priorities – “All the rest should be given back to the states”.

Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France (Greater Paris) region, said she was ready to welcome companies wishing to remain in the EU saying, in English, “Welcome to Paris region”.

Xavier Bertand, president of the Haut-de-France (Northern France) region, said that the Touquet agreements should be renegotiated. These agreements allow border controls to be shared between the UK and France.

MEDEF, the federation representing French companies, has stated that Brexit should be an opportunity to “change what doesn’t work in the EU”, warning against any punitive action against the UK.

European Parliament political group leaders

Manfred Weber (European People’s Party) said Brexit is a British problem, and that the EU cannot wait for Conservative Party to overcome their internal difficulties and decide on a new leader to take on negotiations. ‘Leave means leave.’

He added that when there are decisions for Northern Ireland and Scotland, the EU is open to new member states.

Gianni Pitella (Socialists & Democrats) said that this can be a new start for Europe. He added that David Cameron was right to resign after the “crazy idea” to call a referendum because of internal problems in the Conservative Party.

He added that austerity, not the EU itself, is responsible for the disaster in Europe.

Guy Verhofstadt (Liberals and Democrats) said that the UK voted against this European Union, but that there is no general distrust in EU. He added that Article 50 needs to be activated immediately, not in October.

He said that the EU needs to reform, with faster action, less use of unanimity, and a smaller Commission.

Syed Kamall (Conservatives and Reformists) said that the EU and the UK can become “good neighbours”. He added that Cameron leaving negotiations to his successor is not problematic because they would not have started much earlier due to the summer break in the EU institutions.

Rebecca Harms (Greens / European Free Alliance) said that the EU will miss the British people. She said that the “miracle” of the EU is visible in the European Parliment every day, and that the rise of populism after Brexit could become problematic.

Gabriele Zimmer (European Left) said that the EU should not allow Cameron to play games – she said he misused the referendum to resolve an internal fight in Conservative Party, and now wants to leave EU in uncertainty until October.

She added that if Cameron refuses to start negotiations on Brexit, the EU should take date of referendum as starting date of Brexit.

The European Parliament will meet in plenary session to discuss the result on Tuesday 28 June at 10:00.


The main parties in Spain, preparing for a national election on 26 June, have lamented the decision of British voters.

The acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, said that the rights of Spanish people living in the UK will be protected until the negotiated exit.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, expressed his concern about the results and supports “more Europe” and avoiding stating this referendum as “the beginning of the end of Europe”.

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez called for reform of the EU; Albert Rivera of the centrist Citizens party, said that Cameron “committed an historic act of irresponsibility” in calling the referendum.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, said this is a “sad day for Europe” and that “we have to change Europe”.


Political and business leaders in Germany were shocked by the result. Politicians from all established parties call for solidarity among the EU member states.

However, there is widespread agreement that Brexit is a significant setback for the EU and its policy of integration.

Berlin will become a centre for EU discussions before the meetings in Brussels next week. Germany set three priorities:

  • Stability and constructive negotiations over the UK’s exit with a focus on trade and the single market.
  • Partnership with the UK outside of the EU but no significant concessions to the UK in the process.
  • Creating a strong EU of 27 members around the core of the founding members Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will meet his colleagues from the founding member states over the weekend in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited French President François Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk for consultations to Berlin on Monday.

Chancellor Merkel said that the interest of the German economy will be paramount, and called for a close partnership with the United Kingdom after it leaves the EU. On Tuesday, the German Parliament will come together for an additional plenary session in which Chancellor Merkel will give an official government statement.

Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, highlighted that the government will lead tough negotiations without substantial concessions to the UK, to avoid a domino effect.

Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel said it is important to build bridges, especially for the many young Brits, whose future will now be outside the EU.

The Christian Democrats stressed the need for prudent negotiations, while the Social Democrats spoke up in favour of Scottish entry into the EU, and said that the EU now needs to fight increasing nationalism and mistrust towards its institutions, and needs to focus on the big challenges of the refugee crisis, unemployment and security.

The right-wing populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD) celebrated Brexit and called for referendums on EU membership in all countries.

German economists do not expect a new euro crisis, but call for the UK to have access to the EU internal market.

The German stock market started with a ten percentage point drop due to Brexit. This constitutes the biggest decline since 2008’s financial crisis. While German business associations and economists see economic challenges coming with Brexit, they expect smaller negative impacts for the EU than for the UK.

The Managing Director of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Markus Kerber emphasised that the investment climate into the UK as well as the German industries of automobiles, chemicals, electronics, metals and engineering will be hit hardest. It remains uncertain what Brexit will mean for the financial markets, especially in London and Frankfurt.

Votewatch Europe

Brexit will lead to a weakening of the better regulation agenda and bolster support for higher standards for labour and the environment.

There will be less support for the enforcement of intellectual property rights.

The loss of a net contributor to the EU budget will first lead to a decrease in the overall size of the budget, but without UK opposition, the overall budget may increase during the next round of negotiations.

Without British opposition, tax harmonisation across the EU will be more likely, as will higher taxes on financial transactions.

Supporters of nuclear energy and unconventional energy sources (such as shale gas) will lose an important ally in Brussels.

The ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) and EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) groups will be hit hardest by Brexit, and the EPP will become proportionally larger, as it has no British members. Pro-integration voices will be strengthened.

Read the Votewatch report (PDF)

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