The President of Iceland has welcomed Britain’s exit from the European Union, voicing hopes that the UK will now strengthen it’s relationship with Iceland, Greenland and Norway.
President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson said the vote to leave the EU represented a “serious setback” for the leaders of the EU, and opened the door to a new “triangle of nations” working together outside of the EU, shifting power in the north of Europe away from the Union.
“It is now obvious that here in the North Atlantic will be a triangle of nations that all stand outside of the European Union: Greenland, Iceland, Great Britain, Faroe Islands and Norway,” he told the Iceland Monitor, adding: “This key area in the North will be outside of the influence of the European Union.”
Following its departure from the EU, Britain is likely to trade with the single market under the rules of the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, signed in 1994, putting the country on a par with Norway and Iceland.
“Iceland and Norway will now, in a totally new way, become participants in negotiations that must take place between the European Union and the United Kingdom, and the European Union and member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) with this new triangle of countries in the North Atlantic,” Grimsson said, adding: “Our significance with regards to relations with our neighbours as well as the member states of the EU has undergone positive changes.”
He believes that the development will shift interest in Europe northwards, and expects Britain to want to strengthen ties with northern non-EU countries as a result.
“It is enlightening for anyone to look at a map or a globe and study this part of the world, the magnificent Greenland, the North Atlantic, Iceland, Norway, and then south to the British Isles. And then consider, with regards to trade and international affairs between the United States and Europe, and Asia and Europe, the key position this area will enjoy in the 21st century.”
Iceland rejected membership of the EU in 2014 after the country’s politicians grew convinced that Iceland’s interests were best served by staying outside of the bloc.
Iceland’s Financial Minister, and leader of Iceland’s Independence Party, Bjarni Benediktsson, who was instrumental in that decision has also welcomed Brexit, saying that it makes the idea of Iceland joining the EU even less likely.
“These are huge political news [sic], not only for Britain but also for the whole European cooperation,” he said. “This is very telling for what has been happening in recent years when we’ve seen conflict within the European cooperation who have wanted to increasingly merge and to deepen the cooperation, and the others who have been gaining votes in the European Parliament elections and in the politics of different countries within the EU who have said, stop, no further, and believe that the EU countries have gone too far in their cooperation.
“This began as a peace and customs agreement and many believe that should be the core of the cooperation, and that interference in people’s daily lives should stop.”
Benediktsson added that the Icelandic government will work hard to keep foreign relations between Iceland and Britain on good terms, stressing that Britain’s vote to leave the EU will clearly influence Iceland’s decision making on whether or not to join the EU. “In my mind it’s an even more distant idea following this result as the whole European cooperation is now being reassessed,” he said.