1st shots fired in EU-U.K. divorce; how ugly will it get?

British PM meets EU leaders for first time since Brexit vote

Last Updated Jun 28, 2016 7:39 PM EDT

BRUSSELS -- The Brexit battle moved to Brussels on Tuesday, and it moved to a new level of vitriol as the issue changed from whether Britain should leave the European Union, to when it will leave.

If the hope was that leaving the EU would be a polite and civil process, CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says it hasn't started that way.

When will Britain actually leave the EU?

British officials have made it clear they're in no hurry to begin the official Brexit process. The EU, however, like a jilted lover, is saying go now -- or at least go soon -- and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Fresh from his humiliating appearance the previous day in parliament in London, it was a chastened Prime Minister David Cameron who came to EU headquarters in Brussels Tuesday to meet with the other European leaders.

He had promised them that if they made concessions to Britain on how strictly the U.K. would have to adhere to the EU's rules, he could deliver a referendum vote to remain in the union. He was wrong, and the European leaders aren't happy.

Now Cameron says it's up to Britain to decide when to call in the lawyers and start divorce proceedings with the official invocation of Article 50 of the EU treaty. Once the British government notifies the EU that it is invoking Article 50, there is a finite period of two years, under EU law, for negotiations between the two entities. At the end of that period, Britain is out.

Europe's leaders want quick breakup with Britain

"The British government will not be triggering Article 50 at this stage," Cameron said Monday in parliament. "Before we do that, we need to determine the kind of relationship we want with the EU, and that is rightly something for the next prime minister and their cabinet to decide."

The next prime minister -- the current front-runner to fill that post being pro-Brexit point-man and ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson -- is stalling; the "Leave" side doesn't seem to have worked out the playbook for its drive to departure.

But it takes two to tango, and European leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have their own reasons for wanting to strike up the divorce music now.

A wave of populist, anti-EU movements has spread beyond Britain to several other countries, and they have taken heart from the U.K.'s shock decision. The European establishment does not want to encourage them by offering Britain a sweetheart deal.

Merkel said Tuesday on the floor of the European Parliament that EU representatives should not engage in any negotiations with the British on the terms of the withdrawal until the U.K. invokes Article 50.

She was echoing earlier remarks by European Commission President Juean-Claude Juncker, who banned EU commissioners from any negotiations with the British before the U.K. gives official notice under Article 50.

"No notification, no negotiation," insisted Juncker.

The bitterness in the European Parliament chambers was palpable. Nigel Farage, leader of Britain's U.K. Independence Party who campaigned fervently for years to get his country out of the EU, was there in his role as a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

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U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage sits at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, June 28, 2016, for a meeting with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a plenary session. Getty

As Juncker began his speech with a nod to the democratic will of the British people, Farage applauded, but his gratitude didn't go down well with the Frenchman.

"That's the last time you are applauding here," he said, chastizing Farage, who sat at his desk behind a British flag. "To some extent I'm really surprised you are here. You are fighting for the exit. The British people voted in favour of the exit. Why are you here?"

But it was soon Farage's turn to speak, and he didn't hold back.

He immediately struck an acrimonious tone, telling his fellow MEPs he was laughed at 17 years ago when he arrived in Brussels and vowed to lead a campaign to pull Britain out of the EU.

"I have to say, you are not laughing now, are you?" Farage said.

He accused the EU of "imposing a union" upon Britain and other member states "by stealth, by deception, without ever telling the truth to the British or the rest of the European Union," and said EU leaders -- whom he accused of never having done a "proper job in your lives" -- were in "denial" about the failure of the union as an economic and political project.

Calling the Brexit vote "a beacon of hope" to the anti-EU movements in nations like the Netherlands, France and Sweden that the leaders in the room are most worried about, Farage predicted that "the U.K. will not be the last member state to leave the EU."

He ended with a call for the European Parliament to be "grown up and sensible" in its negotiations with Britain on future trade terms that he said should be mutually beneficial.

His remarks were met with boos, and some MEPs turned their backs to him as he spoke.

As Phillips reports, there's no no-fault divorce playing out in Brussels, and "there's a lot more at stake than who gets the record collection."

Access to the EU's tariff-free single market trading bloc -- a huge prize that British negotiators will be at pains to keep hold of -- will come with strings attached.

The biggest string, and the hardest for pro-Brexit Britons to stomach, will be the provision for the free movement of labour across borders; a promise that the U.K. would be able to control immigration across its own borders was at the heart of the Leave campaign's sales pitch.

Who might work on London's construction sites without the steady influx of Eastern European workers is another question the Leave side has not yet answered.

As with any separating couple, talk of an amicable divorce rarely survives the first shot across the negotiating table. The meeting of EU leaders in Brussels is scheduled to last two days, David Cameron has already been told not to bother showing up for day two.