French Finance Minister Michel Sapin says the UK was not prepared for the outcome of the referendum to exit the European Union and so should be given more time to respond.
Sapin said, however, that Britain should not take too long to begin the process of leaving the EU because of the damaging uncertainty.
“At the time, which is understandable given the shock and the lack of preparation of the British authorities, Britain needed a bit of time to organize itself and reflect on the way it should respond,” Sapin told Reuters on Friday.
“But the time should not be indefinite, uncertainty is damaging, also economically, and in particular for Great Britain. So one needs to engage in negotiations as soon as possible. The talks cannot be done in bits,” Sapin said.
The United Kingdom voted last month to leave the EU after 43 years of membership in a referendum but it has not yet given formal notice to leave. After formally beginning the exit process, it will have two years to negotiate the terms of its exit.
EU leaders have been urging the UK to start the exit process without delay, arguing that postponing the decision to hand in formal notice was creating uncertainty and slowing economic growth.
The British economy has shrunk at its fastest rate since April 2009 — the peak of the 2007-08 financial crisis – following the Brexit vote, according to a business survey.
Data from IHS Markit’s Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) shows the composite index – which measures both services and manufacturing – dropped from 52.4 in June to 47.7 in July, a seven-year low. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.
The survey shows that the services sector is hit particularly hard. It also suggests that UK GDP could shrink by 0.4 percent in the third quarter as manufacturing has dropped to its lowest level since February 2013.
Speaking in China on Friday, Philip Hammond, the new UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the report showed the Brexit vote had damaged confidence and caused a period of economic uncertainty.