The future of the EU is not “at risk” from Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday, urging London to start the exit process as “quickly as possible.”
“We respect and at the same time regret the UK decision, but the European Union as such is not at risk,” Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg in his annual State of the Union address.
Speaking first in German, Juncker said he wanted Brexit to happen “as quickly as possible so we can take the specific steps which need to be taken so that our relations with the UK, which must remain on a friendly basis, can take a new shape.”
He said again that if Britain wanted to retain access to the bloc’s single market of 500 million consumers, then it would also have to accept the EU’s core principle of freedom of movement of people.
“There can be no a la carte access to the single market,” he said, stressing the line taken both before and after Britain’s shock June vote to quit up-ended assumptions about the future of the 28-nation bloc.
Migration was the key issue in the referendum, with eurosceptic and populist parties capitalising on widespread disenchantment with the EU after more than a million migrants, mostly Syrians, arrived in the bloc last year.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will not be rushed into starting the Brexit negotiations, suggesting they could begin early next year once London is ready.
Once the talks begin, Britain has two years to thrash out a deal.