U.K. scrambles to contain turmoil

Walk towards Westminster:People walking over Westminster Bridge wrapped in Union flags, towards the Houses of Parliament in central London late last week.— PHOTO: AFP  

British leaders battled to calm markets and the country on Monday after its shock vote to leave the EU, while insisting London would be not rushed into a quick divorce. Finance Minister 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 sent financial markets into tailspin.

In his first public comments since the vote, Mr. Osborne said: “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.”

But despite his soothing words, shares in banks, airlines and property companies plunged on the London stock exchange as investors singled out those three sectors as the most vulnerable.

Pound falls

The reassurance halted the fall of sterling, which collapsed by 10 per cent on Friday, but only temporarily as it then plunged again to its lowest level against the dollar in almost 31 years.

Leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson also struck a conciliatory tone, insisting: “I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be.” He also attempted to reach out to the 48 per cent of Britons who voted to stay in the EU, urging Brexit supporters to “build bridges” with pro-EU “neighbours, brothers and sisters”. With jitters rattling the markets, attention turned to what happens next, with both London and Brussels in uncharted waters. EU leaders have urged a swift divorce amid fears a drawn-out process could imperil the integrity of the alliance.

“The last thing Europe needs is to start a year-long discussion on [the negotiation] procedures” for Brexit, said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

But Prime Minister David 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. — AFP