Merkel Says Avoiding EU Division on Brexit of Utmost Importance

  • Chancellor gives first reaction to Theresa May’s Brexit speech
  • No political, industry contacts with U.K. before Article 50

What's the Takeaway From U.K. PM May's Brexit Speech?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she is determined to hold the rest of the European Union together as the U.K. sets out its plans to exit the bloc.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Wednesday alongside Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Merkel said both leaders were “determined” that talks between the EU and the U.K. won’t start until Brexit is triggered. Refraining from talking to British counterparts before Article 50 is invoked also applies to “our respective industries,” she said.

Merkel and Gentiloni, Jan. 18.

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

“I am not overly concerned that we won’t stay united,” the chancellor said, in her first public response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech. “The be-all and end-all is that Europe doesn’t let itself be divided, and we will ensure this through very intensive contacts.”

Merkel, the leader of Europe’s biggest economy and dominant power, talked with May by phone on Tuesday after the premier’s speech. May told her that while the U.K. would be leaving the EU single market it still wanted “the greatest possible access” in the form of a free-trade agreement, her office said.

“We now have a clear impression” of how May wants to proceed in the negotiations, Merkel said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stressed the challenges of the forthcoming Brexit talks while repeating the EU’s desire to reach a “fair” agreement with the U.K.

“It will be a very, very, very difficult negotiation,” he told reporters in Strasbourg, France.

— With assistance by John Follain, and Jonathan Stearns

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