BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Britain must make up its mind on the start of formal divorce procedures with the European Union as its economy stands to lose the most from the prolonged uncertainty, the head of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Friday.
EU leaders have pressed Britain to initiate formal exit talks as soon as possible after voters chose to split from the bloc in a referendum in June, although the government plans to take until at least the end of the year to form a negotiating stance.
“For the Brexit process, it really is up to the British to make up their minds, in terms of when to start and how to get it on the road,” Dijsselbloem told reporters in Bratislava before a meeting of the Eurogroup countries using the euro currency.
“I think, in the end, it will be the British economy that is damaged most, which I don’t hope for but, I mean, this is my concern.”
He also said he felt there was a strong political commitment from the EU’s remaining 27 members to move forward together.
Other ministers said the so-called Brexit would be part of talks that should focus on improving the EU.
“We will talk of course ... informally, but all the more intensively, about how to strengthen Europe after the British decision,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said, mentioning higher investment and stronger tax regulation as areas of discussion.
Sweden’s finance minister, Magdalena Andersson, said Brexit should not be allowed to dominate talks.
“We, of course, need a good Brexit both for Britain and the European Union,” she said. “But also within the European Union we need to take steps forward to develop the union and not only be hijacked by Brexit.”
Andersson also said she was worried about signals that Britain could launch new aggressive tax policies to smooth economic bumps, such as lower corporate taxes suggested by former finance minister George Osborne, which she said would make other EU members reluctant over a deal.
New British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Thursday he was considering whether a fiscal response to Brexit would be appropriate as part of a budget statement due in November.
Prime Minister Theresa May has given little away on what she wants when Britain leaves the EU, saying she will not show her hand before Britain triggers Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to start the exit procedure. That will not happen this year, she says.
Reporting by Jason Hovet and Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jan Strupczewski and Alison Williams