BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe won’t miss David Cameron, a senior EU lawmaker in Brussels said on Wednesday as the prime minister who led Britain to the exit left office and handed on the job of completing its withdrawal from the European Union.
“The UK finally has a new prime minister,” Gianni Pittella, the leader of the center-left group in the European Parliament said in a statement as Theresa May took over the government.
“Goodbye Mr. Cameron. Nobody will miss you.”
Other European politicians focused their attention on May, his successor as Conservative leader, who backed Cameron’s campaign to remain in the EU but then saw off pro-Brexit rivals once he had resigned after losing the referendum on June 23.
European Council President Donald Tusk, whose job it will be to broker negotiations between May and the 27 other national EU leaders, sent a two-sentence letter of congratulation saying that he looked forward to a “fruitful working relationship”.
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the executive European Commission which will work on the details of any new deal, said he hoped to meet May “in the near future” and hear how she plans to address the “new situation” created by the Brexit vote.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, a vocal supporter of a more federal European Union, was quick to urge May to do what Cameron refused to do after the referendum and formally notify the EU that Britain was indeed leaving the bloc.
“We cannot afford a long period of uncertainty. Clarity is in the interest of both Europe and the United Kingdom,” he said, adding a salute to Cameron’s “tenacity” and “strong leadership”.
Pittella, an Italian who leads the second biggest group in the European Parliament, also called on May to serve notice of withdrawal under Article 50 of the EU treaty, which sets a two-year deadline for London to negotiate an exit or simply be bounced out of the EU. He added: “It must be clear that no negotiations will begin before this is done.”
May has said she may not trigger Article 50 for months but many officials expect tentative talks to start soon on how negotiations might work to forge a new relationship between Britain and the EU.
Pittella repeated warnings from across Europe that Britain cannot keep the benefits of access to the EU single market without following EU rules, including welcoming EU immigrants.
It was left to one of the three other women on the 28-member European Council, the ever pithy President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, to sum up the tough task, which all the leaders had hoped would never be required and which May must now take on:
“#Brexit,” she tweeted. “When life gives lemons, no choice but to make lemonade. The best to new #PM of #UK @theresa_may.”
Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams