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German Chancellor Angela Merkel Pushes Tougher Line on Brexit

Posted by hkarner - 8. Oktober 2016

Date: 07-10-2016
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Comments come after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said she would prioritize control of immigration in exit talks

Merkel cc2BERLIN—German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled a toughening stance on future Brexit talks, warning that the U.K. wouldn’t get special treatment after its prime minister said she would prioritize curbing immigration in negotiating an exit deal.

Ms. Merkel, speaking Thursday to German business leaders, stressed for a second day in a row that the U.K. wouldn’t get full access to the European Union’s single market without fully accepting the four basic principles of the bloc—freedom of goods, services, capital and people.

“If we don’t say that full access to the internal market is connected to complete acceptance of the four basic principles, then a process will unfold in Europe where everyone does and is allowed to do what they want,” she said. “That would be extraordinarily complicated.”

Fearing that other countries would step forward with their own demands, European leaders have stressed that the U.K. must respect the principles if it wants to keep full access to trading without restrictions or tariffs.

Ms. Merkel’s warning signals that Germany is unwilling to make big concessions although it is one of the most sympathetic EU members toward the U.K. “We have to make sure our interests are coherent here so that we won’t be put under pressure constantly via European industry associations to, in the end, allow full access to the internal market even if all freedoms aren’t respected,” she said, to loud applause.

‘‘If we started this with the British people, then Poland or others would follow suit tomorrow. Then the European Union is over.’’
—Sigmar Gabriel

She also repeated her warning that there wouldn’t be any talks with the U.K. over its exit before the formal process had begun. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May this past weekend had said she would trigger the official mechanism for transitioning out of the bloc by the end of March.

Germany has a lot at stake. The U.K. is Germany’s third-largest export market after the U.S. and France, official statistics show. It exports roughly twice as much to Britain as it imports from the U.K.

Senior German officials had hinted that the U.K. might be granted generous access to the single market if it made concessions on free movement. But that was before Mrs. May made clear that limiting immigration would be her priority, a move that likely closes off that possibility.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel joined Ms. Merkel in saying the EU shouldn’t give in to the U.K.’s demands. Such a move, he warned, would effectively result in “selling-out Europe.”

“There are people who say ‘Let’s organize Europe in a way to allow remaining a member of free trade,” he said, speaking after Ms. Merkel. “If we started this with the British people, then Poland or others would follow suit tomorrow. Then the European Union is over.”

The minister, however, also struck a conciliatory tone, arguing that the EU shouldn’t be overly harsh in negotiations and urging a deal that allowed Britain to keep close ties to the EU.

“We must accept that the British people have decided [to leave]. But our anger about this or perhaps the unwillingness to deal with the country, with the political leadership, mustn’t go so far that we no longer do everything in our power to keep the British people as close to Europe as possible,” he warned.

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