Hawkish Merkel Ally Meets May, Strikes a Positive Brexit Note

Manfred Weber arrives at Downing street on Nov. 15, 2017. 

Photographer: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

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As a self-avowed hawk -- “I am one of the more skeptical partners from the European Parliament side towards the Brexit negotiations” -- an ally of Angela Merkel is throwing Theresa May a bone.

After meeting with the British leader in London on Wednesday, Manfred Weber said that “he saw today that there is a willingness to go further, there is a willingness to contribute to a positive outcome.” He added that the U.K. has a “credible” position and that “there are good arguments on the table from both sides.”

That was the carrot. Then came the stick.

“If somebody is leaving the club he has to pay the open bill,” he told an audience during a question-and-answer session. “I see the will to talk about the issues. I don’t want to comment what she told me in the private dialogue, but I see that it’s clear there are points on the table. Their understanding of what sufficient progress means is on the same line.”

Weber’s comments are noteworthy not only because he’s an an ally of the German Chancellor but because on several occasions he has dismissed British proposals on the financial settlement and citizens rights. Last summer he went as far as accusing May of bringing chaos to Britain with her choice of calling a snap election. He even asked May to fire Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as recently as October.

Read more: Can December be the breakthrough or must we keep on waiting

Weber’s overall message was that after meetings with May, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, he’s more optimistic on progress for the Brexit talks than Tuesday, when he said “it’s increasingly unlikely that EU leaders will give the green light in December to the next stage of Brexit talks."

But the U.K. isn’t there yet: "I cannot give already a green light for the December council.”

May’s office released its own take on the meeting.

“They discussed the implementation period, with Weber asking this would look like in practice,” according to an emailed statement. Davis, who has been on a charm offensive to show bankers some love, “outlined the need to avoid a cliff-edge – including for the stability of the financial sector across Europe.”

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