Angela Merkel has dealt an instant blow to Theresa May’s plan for Brexit by rejecting the PM’s plan for trade talks to take place at the same time as Article 50 secession negotiations.
Britain will be put into the slow lane for discussions about any future trade deal with the EU following an intervention by the German Chancellor, who intervened just hours after the UK invoked Article 50.
Ms May had called for talks on a future comprehensive trade deal between the EU and UK to take place at the same time as the so-called ‘Article 50’ talks on how Britain will exit the bloc.
Ms Merkel today however said that talks on British divorce terms would take place first, after which talks on a future relationship would “hopefully soon” take place. The intervention could potentially make the Brexit process significantly more arduous for the UK.
The German Chancellor told reporters in Berlin: “The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship… and only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship.”
In her letter triggering Article 50 Theresa May explicit said she believed it “is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”. She repeated similar sentiments four times in the documents.
Ms Merkel’s unpicking of Ms May’s plan also comes as European Parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt explicitly ruled out giving the UK a better trade deal in exchange for better security or defence arrangements. The Prime Minister had also repeatedly and explicitly linked “economic and security cooperation” in her Article 50 letter.
If the German leader gets her way Britain might not see a final comprehensive trade with with the EU for years, and almost certainly not before the next general election in 2020. The UK would also likely have to rely on a transitional arrangement with the bloc after it leaves but before a separate trade deal can be negotiated.
In the same address on Wednesday after Article 50 Ms Merkel said Germany and its other European partners “certainly did not wish for this day” of Britain leaving the EU and that she would strive to make the impact of leaving the bloc on Britain’s citizens “as small as possible”.
The German Chancellor pledged that she would do all she could to make sure the talks were “fair and constructive” and said she hoped British negotiators would do the same.
Britain now has two years to negotiate a divorce deal with the European Union, which will cover issues such as whether Britain owes the bloc any money.