British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says the UK now has to choose between controlling immigration or safeguarding EU trade. He says it would be impossible to do both when Britain leaves the EU.
Hammond on Sunday became the first British minister to describe the extent of the difficulties the country now faces as it prepares to leave the European Union, warning that losing access to the European single market would be "catastrophic" for the country.
In an interview with ITV television, the UK's foreign minister said the new prime minister would have to make a trade-off between immigration - one of the major influencers of the public's Brexit vote - and continued access to the world's largest trade bloc.
On Thursday, British voters decided by 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent to leave the EU, a decision that has caused financial markets to crash and led to the resignation of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Hammond, who campaigned for Britain to remain in the bloc, said the UK could not retain access to the single market while also asserting control over migration from EU member states. "Leave" campaigners had promised to reduce migration to the UK from elsewhere in the bloc.
Hammond gave assurances that the existing cabinet would remain in place until a new prime minister was appointed, mostly likely before October.
"Obviously a new prime minister will select his own cabinet and all of us will remain in office until that point, and then the new prime minister will make his decision," Hammond told ITV.
He also said that the timing of the formal request to leave the EU - by triggering Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty - would be a British decision. Article 50 would begin a two-year exit process to renegotiate trade, business and political links between the UK and the EU.
Those remarks contradicted European Parliament President Martin Shulz, who told the German weekly "Bild am Sonntag" that EU lawmakers want Britain to officially apply to leave by Tuesday, when EU leaders will hold their summit in Brussels.
The four biggest groups in the European Parliament have also called for proceedings to begin on Tuesday, according to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung" newspaper.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she sees no need to rush the UK into a quick divorce from the EU. On Sunday, Merkel's chief of staff Peter Altmaier was cited by the RND newspaper as saying the UK politicians should get a chance to reconsider the decision.
"If Britain really left, that would be a difficult watershed with many consequences," he told the paper.
Gone by 2019?
A leading Brexit campaigner and Conservative MP Liam Fox described Sunday what he said was "a reasonable timetable" that would see Britain leave the bloc at the beginning of 2019.
Thursday's referendum result has left deep divisions within the ruling Conservatives and opposition Labour party and reignited calls for Scottish independence, as most Scottish voters chose to remain in the EU.
On Sunday, the UK remained in a state of shock, with more than 3.1 million people signing a parliamentary petition to demand a second EU referendum. The British government must decide within two days whether to debate the issue, although many analysts think a second vote is unlikely.
Anti-EU feeling 'not isolated'
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair refused to rule out a second vote in an interview with the BBC on Sunday. While saying he said the result was not "a smart move," he acknowledged a growing anti-EU feeling across the bloc.
"You could have a referendum anywhere in Europe at the moment, and the result will probably be similar," he warned, adding that Britain wasn't just an outlier.
But despite reports of a change of heart or #bregret among the more than 17 million people who voted for the country to leave the EU, a poll by COMRES for the "Sunday Mirror" and "Sunday People" newspapers showed just 1 percent of "leavers" now regret the decision.
The poll also revealed that just 39 percent of those surveyed think another referendum should be held.
mm/tj (AP, Reuters)