LONDON, England – A former British cabinet secretary says leaving the European Union (EU) is not an inevitable move for the United Kingdom (UK), despite the referendum vote to leave.
Gus O’Donnell, a cabinet secretary from 2005-2011, suggested that the UK could remain part of the EU if the EU undergoes reforms.
“It might be that the broader, more loosely aligned group is something that the UK is happy being a member of,” O’Donnell told The Times on Saturday.
O’Donnell, now a crossbencher in the House of Lords, later told the BBC the possibility of not leaving the bloc is very low, because the EU would not radically change.
He also noted that “we need to get on and implement the people’s decision,” who voted to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum. Some 52 percent (17.4 million) of British people voted to leave the EU after 43 years of membership.
The vote called Brexit sent shock-waves throughout the world and prompted the EU members to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — the step required to officially begin the withdrawal — as soon as possible in an effort to end what they called political and economic uncertainty.
Starting the negotiations would begin a two year countdown for the UK to separate itself from Brussels.
O’Donnell, however, warned against rushing to start the talks, saying it would take Parliament “years and years and years” to separate fully from the union. He said that the process of leaving is very difficult because article 50 was designed “in a way that is very strongly in favor of those who are staying, not the leaving party.”
Describing the process as an “unprecedented challenge” for the government and the civil service, he said Prime Minister Theresa May now faced a “really difficult job.”
“She’s got to corral all these different individuals, come up with precisely what version of Brexit we want, what works best for the British people, and then go about implementing it,” he added.
May, however, said she would not begin the negotiations on the country’s “sensible and orderly departure” from the union until next year, but reaffirmed that “Brexit means Brexit.”