European Officials Welcome Clarity on May Plan for Brexit Talks

  • Tusk says May’s speech was ‘realistic’ though Brexit is ‘sad’
  • Merkel’s cabinet ministers meet Wednesday to discuss response

European Union officials welcomed Theresa May’s explanation of her plans for Brexit after the U.K. prime minister gave her most detailed account yet of how she hopes to reshape her country’s relationship with the 28-nation bloc.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said May’s speech in London Tuesday had given “a bit more clarity” on Britain’s stance in the forthcoming negotiations while EU President Donald Tusk said it was a “realistic” approach to a “sad process.”

Steinmeier said an inter-ministerial committee including the German cabinet members tasked with dealing with the U.K.’s exit will meet on Wednesday to agree on the country’s negotiating position, though other officials in Berlin and across the EU bemoaned May’s plans to pull out of the bloc’s single market.

“She has made clear that Great Britain strives for a positive and constructive partnership and friendship with a strong EU,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “That’s a good thing.”

May pledged to quit the single market and seek a customs agreement with the EU instead to deliver “a smooth and orderly Brexit” during a speech in London Tuesday. While saying that she wanted the U.K. to be “a good friend and neighbor in every way” to its former partners, she also warned them not to reject the model she was proposing.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told lawmakers in Dublin that it was always clear that the U.K. would be seeking the best possible deal for its citizens as it left the EU. Tomas Prouza, the lead Brexit negotiator for the Czech Republic, said May “seems a bit ambitious,” though praised the British leader for a thorough policy speech that helped clarify the U.K. position, according to Twitter posts.

Hard Brexit

Other German officials cast May’s speech, which sketched out plans to seek a new arrangement with the EU’s customs union, in a less positive light.

“If Mrs. May wants a Brexit, a break of all relations, then that’s her decision,” Volker Kauder, the parliamentary caucus chairman for Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told reporters. “But one thing that can’t happen is that you want all the advantages and be able to shape things on your own terms.”

Merkel herself has rarely departed from her position that post-Brexit access to the EU’s single market can only be allowed if London adheres to European rules on freedom of movement. The parliamentary whip for Merkel’s Christian Democrats, Michael Grosse-Broemer, told reporters Tuesday that “dialogue will continue” while Norbert Roettgen, the Christian Democratic chairman of the foreign-relations committee in Germany’s lower house, said ruling out single-market access marked a victory for those wanting a hard Brexit.

“My fear has always been -- and it seems now to be confirmed -- that those on the British side who hold on to a more uncompromising view would win out, at least as much out of helplessness,” Roettgen told a group of foreign reporters on Tuesday in Berlin as May gave her speech. “If compromise is killed, then Europe will lose.”

— With assistance by Arne Delfs, Birgit Jennen, and Katerina Petroff

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