Angela Merkel insists Article 50 must be triggered before Brexit talks despite Theresa May stance

German Chancellor takes firm line with new British Prime Minister as the two women meet for the first time

Tom Peck
Berlin
Wednesday 20 July 2016 18:01 BST
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Angela Merkel insists Article 50 must be triggered before Brexit talks

Whatever it was that Prime Minister May came to Berlin hoping to get, she will leave without it. The message from Chancellor Merkel was clear: If you wish to take your time over leaving the European Union, then do, but don’t expect anything in the meantime.

Never before have two more powerful stateswomen met for bilateral discussions, but those discussions were defined by what was off the table, rather than what was on it.

At a joint press conference with the two leaders at the German Chancellery, Ms Merkel repeatedly made clear that Germany will not enter into any discussions with the UK until it invokes Article 50, and formally begins the two year process of leaving the EU.

In recent weeks Ms Merkel has been more patient with the UK than other European leaders have been, who have called on the UK to invoke Article 50 immediately, but her position was no less decisive.

“The people in the majority in the UK voted for leaving,” she said. “We have not asked them to leave. I think it’s understandable that a new government will have to take a moment and seek to identify its interests. So we will wait for the moment when the UK invokes this and applies for this and then we will put our guidelines on the table as to how we see the future relationship.”

Article 50 is designed to give the EU the upper hand over an exiting member state. The two year deadline serves as a ticking clock, weakening the leaving country’s position. It would be in the UK’s interests to be given informal guidance on what position Germany might take in negotiations with it, prior to Article 50 being triggered. Ms Merkel will not be doing so.

“The British Prime Minister will not sit at the table of the European Council. It doesn’t make sense now to engage in speculation in what might happen. 27 countries will be giving you different views. That’s not in the British interest. And it’s not in our interest.”

Despite years at the top of politics, the meeting was the first time the two women had ever met.

Ms May said: “We have two women here, who have had a very constructive discussion, who get on with the job and want to deliver the best results for the people of the UK and the people of Germany.”

Asked by a German journalist whether the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary was “like putting a player on the pitch who doesn’t want to play,” Ms May said: “I have appointed a team of ministers, and we will be looking to build good relations. Those positive relations will underpin everything I do.”

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