By Chinedu Onyejelem The Dutch prime minister says the UK has “years of work ahead” to “get out of this mess” in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg during a debate reviewing the Netherlands’ recently concluded EU presidency, Mark Rutte said that it was “extremely unfortunate” that Britain “has now collapsed – politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally.”
His comments were made in response to remarks by two MEPs – Bill Etheridge from the UK and Zoltán Balczó from Hungary – on the future of Britain’s pending exit from the European Union.
Etheridge of the Ukip party branded the EU as “a failed project”, adding that “the UK has shown the way to freedom, and I truly hope that all of our friends across Europe get the same chance that we had to embrace freedom and a bright future soon.”
Earlier, Rutte called for a renewed Europe following Britain’s exit. He told MEPs that member states were “in uncharted territory” with regard to the consequences of the Brexit referendum.
“And we must be honest: even if we find the perfect way to handle this ‘divorce’, our problems won’t simply melt away,” he said.
“It is not only British voters who have doubts about European cooperation. In other member states, too, including the Netherlands, there is widespread criticism and Euro-scepticism. And we need to address it.”
The Dutch prime minister called on MEPs to adopt a “pragmatic approach” towards EU issues with “less bureaucracy, red tape and regulation, and more concrete, visible results”, adding that the EU has no time to pause and reflect with the continuing migrant crisis.
“The instability surrounding Europe and the related migration from North Africa demand urgent action,” he said. “And of course there is still a lot to do on the single market. “And for that reason I hope that the EU – its institutions, member states and particularly citizens – will continue our pragmatic approach.”
He added: “This will be a stronger EU, and one that can grow still stronger.” The EU’s strength is demonstrated, Rutte said, in its collaboration in the fight against terrorism.
Highlighting the attacks in Brussels on 22 March and the more recent atrocities in Istanbul and Baghdad, he said the EU is “improving the exchange of information between intelligence services” and sharing data “without compromising privacy”.
“It shows that both our vigilance and our willingness to join forces in this area are increasing,” he added. “Which is great, because they are absolutely crucial.”
Brexit also dominated the conclusions of the European Council meeting of 28-29 June, which took place days before Theresa May won the race to become Britain’s next prime minister after David Cameron’s upcoming resignation.
Next issue: Irish MEPs talk Brexit and unity.