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Britain scrambles to contain Brexit turmoil
[LONDON] Britain's finance minister on Monday sought to calm markets after the country's shock vote to leave the EU, and insisted it would be not rushed into a break-up despite pressure from EU leaders.
George Osborne said Britain's economy was "as strong as could be" to deal with the fallout of Thursday's momentous Brexit vote, which has already claimed the scalp of Prime Minister David Cameron and fuelled fears of a break-up of the United Kingdom.
"Today I want to reassure the British people, and the global community, that Britain is ready to confront what the future holds for us from a position of strength," he said, minutes before the opening of European stock markets.
Despite the reassurances, London's FTSE 100 stock index dropped another 0.8 per cent at the opening after plunging on Friday, while the markets in Paris and Frankfurt opened up slightly.
Mr Osborne's announcement temporarily halted the fall of sterling against the dollar after it lost two per cent in Asia.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is due in London later in the day after a stop-off in Brussels, while the leaders of Germany, France and Italy will meet in Berlin to tackle the crisis.
Three days after Mr Cameron announced his resignation, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is also facing pressure to stand down, with a string of his top team resigning on Sunday.
Mr Osborne stressed that Britain would not be rushed into activating Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which will set the clock ticking on a two-year period to negotiate its divorce from the EU.
"Only the UK can trigger Article 50, and in my judgement we should only do that when there is a clear view about what new arrangement we are seeking with our European neighbours," he said.
EU powers have called for a swift divorce amid fears of a domino effect of exit votes in eurosceptic member states that could imperil the integrity of the 28-nation alliance.
But Mr Cameron has said negotiations on Britain's departure must wait until a successor is chosen from his Conservative party, which could be as late as October.
European Parliament chief Martin Schulz warned Sunday that a period of limbo would "lead to even more insecurity" and said a summit of EU leaders Tuesday, which Mr Cameron will attend, was the "right time" to begin exit proceedings.
But EU diplomats said Sunday that Britain "may never" trigger Article 50.
Mr Kerry, in Rome, expressed regret at Britain's decision to become the first EU nation to leave the bloc - and vowed Washington would maintain close ties with the alliance.
"Brexit and the changes that are now being thought through have to be thought through in the context of the interests and values that bind us together with the EU," he said.
Britons cast aside warnings of isolation and economic disaster to vote 52 per cent to 48 per cent in favour of quitting the EU in last Thursday's referendum.
The vote wiped US$2.1 trillion from global equity markets Friday, and the pound sank to 30-year lows in early Asian trades on Monday, with traders fearing it will lead to months of uncertainty.
The historic vote, fought on the battlefronts of the economy and immigration, exposed deep divisions in the country, which were particularly keenly felt in Scotland.
Scotland voted by 62 per cent to stay in the EU, and the prospect of being pulled out against their will has renewed support for independence.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a second independence vote was now "highly likely", and a meeting of her cabinet on Saturday agreed to start drawing up the necessary legislation.
In London, likely candidates to succeed Mr Cameron, including Brexit campaigner and former London mayor Boris Johnson, began sounding out support over the weekend.
Mr Johnson, a former journalist, used his column in the Daily Telegraph Monday to reach out to Remain voters, insisting: "I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be." But he insisted the sense of crisis was exaggerated.
"At home and abroad, the negative consequences are being wildly overdone, and the upside is being ignored," he wrote.
He insisted there would be continuity for Britons living abroad and Europeans living in Britain.
"The only change - and it will not come in any great rush - is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU's extraordinary and opaque system of legislation," Mr Johnson wrote.
The referendum decision has also lit a fuse under disgruntled members of the opposition Labour party, which backed the losing "Remain" campaign, many of whom have been unhappy with Mr Corbyn's leadership since he took office last September.
Sunday saw a string of resignations by members of the shadow cabinet, but Mr Corbyn issued a defiant statement saying he would not stand down.
A no confidence motion against Mr Corbyn's leadership is expected to be discussed at a party meeting Monday.
For more coverage of the EU referendum, visit bt.sg/BrexiT