German leaders furious at UK's reluctance to invoke Article 50

'The political parties, the political leaders, the commentators and a big, big majority of the people want this process to start yesterday'

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Germany’s political leaders are furious that nobody in the UK wants to take the responsibility of starting divorce proceedings with the EU.

David Cameron, who will continue in office until 2 September – but as a temporary Prime Minister keeping the seat warm for his successor - has refused to get involved in the complex Brexit negotiations.

Boris Johnson - seen by many as Mr Cameron’s most likely successor – has said that he will not want to start the hard bargaining straight away, if elected. He wants a breathing space in which the UK representatives could sound out their EU counterparts to see where there is room for negotiating over the difficult issues around trade and immigration.

What is Article 50?

Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which sets out the procedure for a Brexit, lays down that it is up to the country that is proposing to leave to set the procedure in motion. That means that the UK cannot be forced into negotiations until the prime minister is ready.

But once the process begins, both sides will be working to a two year deadline, and on the British side there are fears that being rushed may prevent them getting the best possible deal for the UK. This is likely to make whoever is Prime Minister in September reluctant to start a process from which there will no going back.

Other EU leaders want the process completed quickly because they worry about the damage Brexit will do the whole European project. They fear that allowing it to drag on might encourage movements in other EU states in favour of pulling out. There is also simmering anger at the British decision which makes EU opinion leaders want to tell Britain to get lost.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is personally sympathetic to the British plight, has bowed to domestic pressure and ruled out any negotiations on future deals until Article 50 has been invoked by the UK.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told journalists that Germany will ‘respect’ the British need for time before formal talks begin, but he  added: “One thing is clear – before Great Britain has sent this notification, there will be no informal preliminary talks about the exit modalities.”

The French finance minister, Michel Sapin, said the French government agrees with the Germans that the sooner the UK leaves, the better. “France, like Germany, thinks that Britain voted for Brexit, and Brexit should be put in place starting now.”

One well-placed German source said: “The political parties, the political leaders, the commentators and a big, big majority of the people want this process to start yesterday.  

“They are absolutely determined – ‘you decided to go, now get out’. They are absolutely pissed about Cameron. They see him as ego centric and ego manic. He tried to a play a poker game, and lost. The issue wasn’t about the EU, it was to save his butt. It was mismanaged and not very clever.

“They are putting pressure on Angela Merkel, who is a little more understanding of the British position, but she can’t afford to be the only supporter of Mr Cameron.”