Merkel warns of Brexit ‘rough going’ after May’s first summit

31 January 2017 9:57am

21st October 2016. By Matthew Holehouse & Lewis Crofts

Angela Merkel warned the Brexit negotiations will be ‘rough going’, following Theresa May’s first meeting of European leaders in Brussels.

But the UK prime minister’s brief update on her intentions provided a ‘good foundation’ for the talks to come, the German Chancellor said.

May’s message that she wanted the European Union to prosper following the UK’s exit from the bloc was welcomed, Merkel said.

May attended her first meeting in Brussels as Prime Minister to stress that the decision of British voters in June’s exit referendum was final, but she hopes the UK can become a “strong and dependable” partner for the bloc.

She spoke for around five minutes at 1 a.m., shortly before the conclusion of the summit, with no reaction from her counterparts. This was in line with the hopes of EU officials who did not want the update to become a negotiation.

May “indicated that negotiations are to take place in a way that is to the benefit of the interests of Great Britain, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the EU,” Merkel said.

“As far as the practical terms are concerned, it is going to be rough-going, I think. It will not be that easy. But what she said today is ok. It is a good foundation on which to continue to work with Great Britain.”

She said that May’s wish for the UK to play a full role in the EU until the point of exit was “a very good message.”

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel said May had updated leaders on her intention to transpose European legislation in UK domestic law, in order to provide certainty for business.

“It was not a hard Brexit, at least from my point of view,” he told reporters.

Firm message

Ahead of the meeting, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, dismissed suggestions that May was “entering the lions’ den.”

“It’s more like a nest of doves,” he said. “She’ll be absolutely safe with us.”

But leaders held firm to their mantra that there will be “no negotiation without notification,” and that market access is intimately tied to free movement of labor.

“The basic rules on the single market and the indivisibility of the four freedoms will remain our firm stance,” Tusk said after the meeting, adding he wished the UK would reverse its decision to quit the bloc.

“The EU’s purpose was freedom of movement and that is necessary for gaining access to the single market,” Francois Hollande, the French president, told a press conference.

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