UK Treasury chief tries to calm markets amid 'Brexit' fears

Treasury chief George Osborne sought Monday to ease investor concerns about Britain's vote to leave the European Union, saying the U.K. economy is as strong as it could be to face the challenge.

In his first public appearance since Thursday's referendum, Osborne stressed that Britain's economy is in a far better position than it was at the start of the 2008 financial crisis.

"It will not be plain sailing in the days ahead," he said. "But let me be clear. You should not underestimate our resolve. We were prepared for the unexpected."

However, in the first direct reflection of business confidence, a leading business group says 20 percent of its members plan to move some of their operations outside of the U.K. in light of the country's decision to leave the EU.

The Institute of Directors said Monday that a survey of its 1,000 members showed that three out of four believe that Britain's exit from the EU, or Brexit, will be bad for business.

The pound had plunged to its lowest level in 30 years on Friday and fell another 1.7% against the U.S. dollar on Monday, to $1.3430.

Osborne pledged not to impose a new austerity budget — even though he said during the campaign that one would be necessary if voters chose to leave the EU. He said another budget would be the task of the government of Prime Minister David Cameron's successor.

Osborne also said he had been working closely with Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, fellow finance ministers and international organizations over the weekend.

"We are prepared for whatever happens," he said.

In another move to cushion the market reaction, Osborne stressed that only Britain can invoke Article 50, which triggers the formal process by which the country would leave the bloc. The U.K. "should only do that when there is a clear view about what new arrangement we are seeking with our European neighbors," he said.

Cameron is expected to chair an emergency Cabinet meeting Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Brussels and London to address the fallout from the vote.

Political turmoil has roiled Britain since the vote as leaders of the government and opposition parties grapple with the question of precisely how the U.K. will separate from the other 27 nations in the bloc.

Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the EU, has announced he will step down by October.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is also facing upheaval within his Labor Party after about a dozen advisers quit his inner circle. They believe Corbyn's lackluster campaign in support of remaining in the EU fatally undermined his ability to lead.

The vote is also causing a political schism in the U.K. overall. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would "consider" advising the Scottish Parliament to try to use its power to prevent Britain from leaving the EU. Some 62 percent of Scots voted to remain in the bloc.

Scottish lawmakers might be able to derail Britain's departure by withholding "legislative consent," she said.

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UPDATES:

1:57 a.m.: This article was updated with more information about the market response and survey results from the Institute of Directors.

This article was originally published at 12:26 a.m.

 

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