World leaders beyond the EU began the process of Friday of adjusting their relationship with the UK in the wake of the vote to leave, in reaction that ranged from trepidation to barely disguised glee in Moscow and Tehran.
A top military official in the Iranian capital predicted that Scotland and Ireland would soon be free of “the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, the so-called Great Britain”.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sought to rebut suggestions that Brexit and the consequent weakening of the EU played into his hands.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Uzbekistan, he said it would have “positive and negative consequences” for Russia and that “the situation will correct itself in the near future”. He put the outcome down to Britain’s concerns over migration and security, and dissatisfaction with EU bureaucracy.
Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, took a rosier view. “Without the UK in the EU there won’t be anyone to so zealously defend the sanctions against us,” he said.
Russia’s presidential business ombudsman, Boris Titov, said: “Leaving will tear the EU away from the Anglo-Saxons, that is from the US.” Reacting to sterling’s slide on the foreign exchanges, a Russian state TV anchor observed drily: “It’s no joke. The pound is the new rouble.”
In Washington DC, Barack Obama issued a statement saying the United States respected the British people’s decision and offering reassurance that both the UK and EU would remain “indispensable partners” of the US during the negotiation phase to come.
The president – who campaigned vigorously for a remain vote while in the UK in April – added: “The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring.”
The White House said Obama would talk to David Cameron on Friday in a statement that preceded Cameron’s resignation announcement.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party’s presumptive nominee, said the US priority should be to ensure Americans would not be affected by the economic turmoil prompted by the Brexit vote. She also said the US needed to make clear that “America’s steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain and the transatlantic alliance with Europe”.
In a statement, she added: “This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans’ pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests. It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.”
Beijing adopted a similarly cautious tone. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, had argued during a visit to Britain last October that China wanted Britain to stay in a united EU to strengthen China’s bond with Europe.
On Friday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman signalled that while Beijing would “continue to work to build a sound relationship with the UK”, the bilateral relationship would have to be reviewed in light of Britain’s decision.
“It is true that with Britain leaving EU it will have an impact on different fields,” Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing.
“Relevant departments [in China] will need time to go through this issue to determine the impact on China’s trade pacts and other agreements with the EU and Britain.”
The Turkish government said that Brexit was “bad for Europe”. Ömer Çelik, the country’s EU minister, said: “Isolationism would destroy European values. Turkey worked with the European Union to address the refugee crisis, one of the greatest challenges Europe faces today. What Europe needs is a fresh start including an update to existing mechanisms. We respect the British people’s decision, but the decision is bad for Europe.”
Earlier in the week, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had hinted that Turkey might itself abandon hopes of joining the EU. On Friday, however, he suggested the country was still interested in joining.
“If [European leaders] would like to safeguard European values, they must leave aside anti-Turkey sentiments and promote closer cooperation with Turkey,” he said.
The possibility of Turkey joining the EU played a key role in the final weeks of the Brexit campaign, with leave campaigners saying a vote to remain would soon be followed by Turkey’s accession.
In Tehran, Hamid Aboutalebi, a senior political aide to the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted that Brexit created a “historic opportunity” for Iran, but did not elaborate on how the country could benefit from the situation.
The deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Massoud Jazayeri, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying “the European Union is a pawn in the hands of America”.
“England should pay the price of years of imperialism and committing crimes against humanity,” Jazayeri said, saying that the price would be Scotland and other parts of the UK demanding independence. “The people of Ireland, Scotland and others have the right to bring themselves out of the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, the so-called Great Britain”.
Like many other western leaders, Nato’s secretary general was left trying to make the best of a result he had strongly argued against.
Jens Stoltenberg, who had argued on the eve of the vote that British membership of the EU contributed to security against terrorism and other threats, said the UK would “remain a strong and committed Nato ally”, and noted that the weakening of Europe made Nato cohesion all the more significant.
“Today, as we face more instability and uncertainty, Nato is more important than ever as a platform for cooperation among European allies, and between Europe and North America,” he said.
Article published in the Guardian – Read it here