PARIS: US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros warned Tuesday that Britain's exit from the European Union would likely take up to five years of wrangling over the country's future relationship with the continent.
"Brexit is an immensely damaging process, harmful to both sides," the businessman and philanthropist said in a speech at a meeting of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank he helped found.
"This divorce will be a long process, probably five years, which is an eternity in politics," he predicted.
Britain has vowed to leave the EU's single market and customs union after Brexit, which officially takes place on March 29, 2019, though a transition period is currently set to last until December 31, 2020.
"Ultimately it's up to the British people to decide what they want to do, but it would be better if they came to a decision sooner rather than later," Soros said.
"The economic case for remaining a member of Europe remains strong, but it will take time for that to sink in," he added.
"In the meantime, the EU needs to transform itself into an association which nations like Britain would want to join."
But Soros, who has long been an outspoken proponent of greater EU integration, warned the project was facing "an existential crisis -- everything that could go wrong has gone wrong".
Besides Brexit, he said the financial crisis of 2008 followed by the chaotic response to the huge influx of refugees in 2015 had led many young people to "regard the EU as an enemy that has deprived them of jobs and a secure and promising future."
He also said Europe had yet to confront the fallout from US President Donald Trump's decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal, which was "effectively destroying the trans-Atlantic alliance."
"This development will put additional pressure of unpredictable force on an already beleaguered Europe -- It's no longer a figure of speech to say Europe is in existential danger."
This month Soros pulled his Open Society Foundations out of Hungary in response to the "repressive" policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which accuses Soros of plotting against it.
"Viktor Orban based his entire re-election campaign on falsely accusing me of planning to flood Europe, Hungary included, with Muslim refugees," Soros said Tuesday.
"He is now posing as the defender of his version of a Christian Europe, that is challenging the values on which the European Union was founded."