German Brexit Memo Stresses EU Unity Will Be Paramount in Talks

  • ‘We must not let ourselves be divided,’ government tells staff
  • Speaking points for officials in paper obtained by Bloomberg

U.K.'s Theresa May Prepares to Face EU Leaders

The German government has told ministry staff that its chief aim in the upcoming Brexit negotiations is to stop the U.K. from dividing the European Union, stressing that the benefits of European integration during the past seven decades must be safeguarded.

Six pages of talking points distributed to government officials detail the main messages to be communicated to outside parties, including German “regret” at the U.K.’s decision to quit the EU. However, Germany’s “foremost priority” during and after the negotiations with the U.K. is the continued unity of the 27 remaining EU nations, according to the document drafted by the German Foreign Ministry and obtained by Bloomberg News.

“We must not let ourselves be divided,” the German government says in the document, dated March 9, and which contains key points in both German and English.

EU leaders, minus Prime Minister Theresa May, will devote the second day of a summit in Brussels on Friday to discuss the future of the bloc without the U.K. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin had no comment when contacted by phone about the document.

‘Third Country’

The U.K. has looked to Germany as a potential ally during the Brexit process, with a stream of British ministerial visits to Berlin in recent months and members of May’s Conservatives pointing out that Germany exports roughly twice as much to Britain as it imports. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested that Germany will use its clout as Europe’s biggest economy to achieve a post-Brexit deal that averts any damage to its car exports to the U.K.

For Johnson’s latest response to the U.K. paying a ‘vast’ Brexit bill, click here

The German document says that officials should make clear there must be a difference between membership of the EU and the free-trade agreement the U.K. is seeking post-Brexit. Regardless of the deal reached, “Brexit will mean less cooperation and economic integration compared to EU membership,” and the U.K will be treated as a “third country,” it says.

“Brexit thus becomes a step backward which will have an effect on Britain,” according to the document.


The prospect of the U.K. using divide-and-rule tactics has been one of the EU’s chief concerns ever since Britain voted to leave the bloc last June. The 27 have so far managed to remain broadly united in refusing to enter into informal negotiations with the U.K. until May officially activates the exit clause -- which she reiterated on Thursday she’ll do by the end of March -- as well as in insisting that Britain must be worse off after leaving.

Britain has already launched a diplomatic charm offensive by boosting its diplomatic missions in eastern European countries, while it’s said to see Spain as a potential soft target because of strong trade and tourism links. Brexit Secretary David Davis has said that exiting without a future arrangement is an “unlikely scenario” but one Britain must prepare for.

The EU is ready to be constructive and expects the same “loyalty” from Britain, according to the German document.

While the German government says it’s important to reach a deal on the future relationship between the EU and U.K., there’s still no consensus on whether the negotiations can start on that before the terms of Britain’s withdrawal are agreed on.

Barnier’s Approach

The U.K. wants discussions over its trading arrangement to take place during the two-year period allotted for withdrawal talks. But many EU officials, including chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, reject the idea, saying the bloc will only talk about the future once other elements, such as Britain’s exit bill and the status of EU nationals in the U.K., are settled.

Germany seems to agree with Barnier’s approach, according to the document. “First of all, elements of the process of British EU membership and exit will have to be settled,” it says. “Only then will it be possible to negotiate all the political, legal and economic questions regarding the future relationship.”

Regardless of whether Britain has secured a new trade deal, it will leave the EU about two years after the triggering of Article 50. Until such time as it departs, the U.K. remains an EU member, and “this includes all rights and obligations -- including loyalty to EU trade policy,” the German government says in the document.

“Brexit is a British decision. We regret it, but respect it,” the government says, noting that the EU and the U.K. share values and views on many global issues.

All the same, it says: “Our top priority is the cohesion and unity of the EU-27 and to safeguard what has been achieved in the common legal and political framework for the future of the EU at 27. European integration has brought peace and prosperity for the past 70 years after centuries of repeated wars in Europe.”

— With assistance by Brian Parkin

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