20 Jul 2016

Will Angela Merkel really resist informal talks with the UK?


Chancellor Merkel said there would be no sly informal talks between Britain and Germany ahead of formal talks on Brexit and a new relationship. Does she mean that? Some in London hope not. Angela Merkel doesn’t like surprises. Does she really want to first hear about the UK’s negotiating position at round a table with 26 other countries? The extent to which there are trusted channels of communication to test British approaches could in part come down to the chemistry the two leaders achieve here tonight,

Chancellor Merkel said “no one wants things to be up in the air” when it comes to the issue of when the UK formally moves Article 50. That sounded like a bit of impatience. But she didn’t drive that point home saying it was in everyone’s interests that the UK has a clear plan. There has been bafflement here at the UK’s vote for Brexit without any clear plan what it means.

Mrs Merkel was very tight-lipped in answer to a question about whether there was a trade-off possible if Britain got restricted access to the Single Market in a bargain struck allowing the UK to restrict EU migration.

Not so long ago, Nick Timothy (now Joint Chief of Staff at No. 10), wrote on the Conservative Home website that post-Brexit “it would almost certainly be the British Government’s policy to seek access to the Single Market, regardless of which party or prime minister was in power.”

The two leaders had much in common, Mrs May insisted. She said they were two women who seek solutions. Mrs Merkel was unusually animated when she caught up with that through the translation headphones – “exactly, I underline that in full” she said.

I mentioned yesterday how badly the Boris Johnson appointment went down with many allies. Here, one German commentator told me: “Our cool friend had already said they didn’t want to see us any more, and then you did that. It felt insulting.” Mrs May will probably be surprised that Mr Johnson has quite such an impact but as Denis MacShane always warned politicians: they (the Europeans) read our newspapers, we don’t read theirs.

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5 reader comments

  1. johan says:

    UK cannot have the rights that those inside the EU have, that is common sense !

    you can have LIMITED access to the free market. how limited? depends, how many EU citizens will you allow in the UK yearly – 10.000 or 100.000? Do you want passporting rights for UK banks ? Then you have to tell us how many EU citizens will be allowed to work in the UK yearly! The EU is bound to do this if it wants to survive, otherwise everyone can cherrypick

    the UK will not receive gifts, it will have to pay for whatever it gets. plus the extra for the insults

  2. Dan says:

    Look, everyone knows that politicians / advisors / staff will talk to each other to get things done. There is a difference between formal negotiations (technically all pre-Art 50 negotiations are informal) and informal discussions. Since Britain remains a paying ‘club’ member for now it would be unlawful to not talk to other members.

    Whatever is agreed may well be subject to legal challenges in Britain, EU courts, national courts and international courts.

    Remember, we follow the rule of law.

  3. H Statton says:

    Firstly, I am flabbergasted that Boris Johnson has been appointed to Foreign Secretary. Theresa May was always going to have no choice in appointing Brexiteers to the cabinet. But it comes as no surprise that our European friends are caustic in response to his selection.

    Given his prominent role in organising what proved to be a successful campaign for the UK to leave Europe, Boris could hardly be overlooked, and a junior ministerial position was never going to be on the cards; but Foreign Secretary? Gove on the other hand, once of ‘Boris wing-man’ fame proved to be the reincarnation of Brutus, and so signed his own political death warrant.

    It clearly rankles that the UK, it now seems, wants to delay absolute Brexit as long as it can; the feeling in Europe appears to be, you wanted it, you got, now let’s see it. The cool reception we’ve seen, even though dissociation is in its early days, is not exactly unexpected.

    The lack of a contingency plan by the Brexit campaign has left the UK floundering. The whole woman to woman bonhomie between May and Merkel is only going to smooth over the immediate awkwardness with Germany; the steely German chancellor is not going to take any crap. French relations may begin who knows where.

    Across the pond, the republican nominee has embraced the referendum result with unreserved delight, and I also expect to see other nationalist parties more animated.

  4. Mick says:

    The EU has a decision to make. It can either decide on a political basis (be awkward with the UK to discourage others from leaving) or on an economic basis (allow free trade between the EU and the UK, because it will make all the people of Europe more prosperous).

    It sounds like Juncker and friends want to risk European prosperity by trying to ‘punish’ the UK. Juncker has already described us as ‘resigning’ from the EU and being ‘deserters’. Hardly emollient language.

    The EU has already crippled much of Europe’s economic activity by imposing the Eurozone across countries with divergent economies. It is perhaps no surprise that the success of the political project may now once again be given priority over the economic interests of the people of Europe.

    It remains to be seen whether the European heads of state will show more common sense than the bureaucrats in Brussels. For the common good of us all, one would certainly hope so.

  5. JB says:

    We hear a fair amount of hard talk from the EU right now regarding their position with the UK on the terms of Brexit. I guess that this is understandable as the negotiations haven’t started yet.

    I think though that the UK is in a stronger position than may be felt in the country right now. The effect of loosing the UK’s £8bn net EU contribution will be difficult to manage. There also appears to be some cracks in solidarity among some member states. If another few elections produce strong results for Eurosceptic parties, we may see those cracks widen as popular opinion hardens for much needed EU reform.

    A wish by the UK to retain access to the single market after Brexit, but with a loosening of the rules on the freedom of movement of people, may be pushing at a gradually opening door.

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