Merkel Warns Against U.K. ‘Illusions’ in Hard-Line Brexit Speech

Updated on
  • German chancellor says exaggerated hopes would waste time
  • Speech to parliament ahead of EU’s Brexit summit on Saturday

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel laid down a tough line for Brexit talks with the U.K., reminding Britain it can’t expect preferential treatment as she warned that some officials in London were harboring “illusions.”

Addressing the German parliament before the remaining 27 European Union leaders meet on Saturday to discuss Britain’s exit, Merkel said the bloc will put its interests first and that talks on departure terms must precede the crafting of a new trade relationship. The EU is heading into the “very complex” negotiations with a strong sense of unity, she said.

Read more: Where the U.K. and EU Currently Stand

“You might think that these things are self-evident, but unfortunately I have to put it in such clear terms because I have the feeling that some in Britain still have illusions about this,” Merkel said in Berlin on Thursday, drawing applause from lower-house lawmakers. “But that would be a waste of time.”

Merkel’s warning echoes comments from German officials who have said negotiators in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government were underestimating the complexity of the talks and the economic reality of a U.K. outside the EU’s single market. The negotiations will be “a lot of work,” Merkel said.

Global challenges such as climate change, trade and migration “are too great for Europe to focus on itself for the next two years, regardless of Brexit,” she said. “We will conduct these negotiations in a fair and constructive way and we expect exactly the same from the British side.”

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Underscoring the unity of Merkel’s three-party government, her coalition’s lawmakers later Thursday approved a resolution that lays out a sweeping series of conditions for the EU’s talks with the U.K. and demands a say for the Bundestag on the final outcome.

In the clearest iteration yet of Germany’s position, the document rules out any deals that would allow access to the European market for specific industries. As Europe’s biggest economy and dominant country, Germany’s stance is important to both the EU and U.K. sides as each prepares for Brexit talks soon after Britain’s general election on June 8.

‘Third-Party State’

“A third-party state – and that’s what Britain will be – can’t and won’t be able to have the same rights, let alone a better position than a member of the European Union,” Merkel said.

The chancellor, who’s running for a fourth term in Germany’s election on Sept. 24, vowed to defend both “the achievements of European integration” and the everyday interests of Germans living in the U.K., whose number she put at about 100,000.

Merkel said her government was in full alignment with Brussels in backing the bloc’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. The EU stood by its position that no talks would take place before May’s government triggered the two-year divorce process last month and is now “very well prepared” for the negotiations, she said.

— With assistance by Birgit Jennen

(Updates with parliament’s Brexit resolution passed in sixth paragraph.)
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