Britain is harboring “illusions” that it will retain most of its rights and privileges once it leaves the EU, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, laying down a hard line for Brexit talks.
Addressing her parliament ahead of this weekend’s EU summit, at which European leaders from the remaining 27 countries will formally adopt Brexit negotiation guidelines, Merkel pledged the bloc would put its interests first and manage the negotiations in its chosen way.
In her toughest message on Brexit to date, she said the UK cannot have the same rights as member states nor negotiate trade relations before agreeing to pay its divorce bill. She said European leaders are heading into the talks with a firm sense of unity.
“Countries with a third country status – and that’s what Great Britain will be – cannot and will not have the same or even more rights as a member of the European Union. All 27 member states and the European institutions agree on this.
“Ladies and gentleman, you may think that all this is self-evident. But I have to put this so clearly because I get the impression that some in Great Britain still have illusions about this, and that is a waste of time.”
Merkel said it made “no sense” to negotiate a future UK-EU relationship without agreement on the UK’s financial commitments to the EU, while also hinting that parallel discussions could be possible once questions about budget contributions had been satisfied.
“We can only make a deal about Britain’s future relationship to the EU once all questions about the terms of its exit can be clarified to a satisfying degree.
“That means the sooner the British government is prepared to find constructive solutions, the sooner we can engage with their desire to already talk during the exit negotiations about the future relationship between the UK and the EU. But first we need to know how Great Britain sees its future relationship with us.”
EU officials estimate that the UK faces a bill of €60bn ($65bn). UK politicians have said the government will not pay a sum of that size.
Merkel also argued the EU could not afford to concentrate only on Brexit in the face of global challenges such as free trade and climate change. These were “too big for Europe to be able to afford 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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