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Europe wants quick retreat from Britain

LONDON (AFP) – European powers demanded a prompt divorce on Saturday as Britain’s seismic vote to abandon the EU sparked bitter break-up rows at home and abroad.

Britons had cast aside warnings of isolation and economic disaster to vote 52 percent-48 percent in favor of quitting the European Union in the June 23 referendum.

The historic vote, fought on the battlefronts of the economy and immigration, toppled Prime Minister David Cameron, pounded sterling, and led Moody’s to downgrade Britain’s credit rating outlook to “negative.”

It exposed deep divisions in Britain too, as more than two million people desperately called for a new vote and support for Scottish independence surged.

Cameron has said he will stay on until a successor is found from within his governing Conservative party, which could take until October, at which point the new prime minister will launch the EU exit negotiations.

But European powers urged Britain not to delay amid fears of a domino-effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the bloc.

“We join together in saying that this process must begin as soon as possible so we don’t end up in an extended limbo period,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after a meeting in Berlin.

Ministers of the six original EU members – Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg – held an emergency meeting to grapple with the first defection in the bloc’s 60-year history.

France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault directly urged Cameron to go quickly, telling AFP: ‘’A new prime minister must be designated, that will take a few days but there is a certain urgency.’’

With characteristic caution, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said only that Britain’s exit talks should not ‘‘drag on forever’’ and that until they were completed, Britain would remain a fully-fledged EU member. ‘‘There is no reason to be nasty in the negotiations. We have to follow the rules of the game,’’ she said.

Earlier, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned London against foot-dragging. ‘‘It is not an amicable divorce but it was also not an intimate love affair,’’ he said.

In an early sign of the Brexit fallout in Brussels, Britain’s European commissioner for financial services, Jonathan Hill, said he would stand down.