angela merkel.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MAURIZIO GAMBARINI

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday rejected suggestions from London that informal talks for Britain's exit from the European Union could begin as early as next week, even as a top EU official called out leaders of the Brexit campaign for jumping ship after their victory.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Monday said that informal talks with the EU about a so-called Brexit could begin as early as next week. Those would include discussions on the relationship between London and Brussels after Britain pulled out of the Brussels-based bloc.

He went on to call for Brussels to drop its insistence that there could be no talks before Britain had formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets the rules for a nation leaving the EU.

But Merkel stood firm.

"Britain must consider its future relationship with the EU and then apply under Article 50 to leave the EU. There would then follow a period of negotiations.

"We must wait to see what happens in the United Kingdom and when it makes its application," she said at a joint press conference with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.

Speaking in Berlin, she reiterated that Germany regretted the outcome of last month's referendum, in which about 52 per cent of Britons voted to leave the European Union.

Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said those leading the camp for Britain to exit the European Union are now turning out to be unpatriotic because they have chosen to abandon leadership positions now that the vote is done.

He pointed the finger at Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

Former London mayor Johnson and Farage, an EU lawmaker and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), had both been key figures arguing for a so-called Brexit ahead of last month's referendum.

However, Johnson decided last week not to run as successor to Prime Minister David Cameron, who tendered his resignation following the referendum. Farage announced on Monday that he would step down as UKIP leader, although he plans to keep his seat in the European Parliament.

"The beaming Brexit heroes of yesterday are the tragic heroes of today," Juncker said Tuesday during a plenary session of the EU's legislature in the French city of Strasbourg.

The likes of Johnson and Farage are "retro-nationalists and no patriots," he added, noting: "Patriots do not leave the ship when the situation gets difficult, that's when they stay."

He said it was incomprehensible that the champions of Brexit now needed several months to agree on their approach.

Britain has said it will not launch formal exit negotiations until after Cameron's successor has been chosen, with some contenders for the position saying this may not happen until next year.

"I don't understand why the Brexit camp needs months before knowing what to do," Juncker said. "I would have thought that they would have had a plan. Instead of developing a plan they are leaving the boat."

Meanwhile, a debate has begun within the bloc's remaining 27 member states over the future of the EU, in light of growing euroscepticism across the continent.

"Too many people in Europe are unhappy with the current state of affairs - be it on the national or European level - and expect us to do better," EU President Donald Tusk told the bloc's legislature.

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