The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she is looking forward to meeting Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, and does not plan to put Mrs. May under any pressure when it comes to Brexit. But she has warned the British government to think carefully about Brexit and stated that the free movement of people was the price to be paid for access to it.
Mrs. May was suddenly handed the keys to 10 Downing Street on Monday afternoon after her only remaining challenger for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and therefore as prime minister, Andrea Leadsom, dropped out of the race.
Mrs. Leadsom’s withdrawal cut short a leadership race which was due to last until September, placing the process to take Britain out of the European Union (EU) at the head of the government’s agenda two months early.
But although many European leaders have called on the British government to invoke Article 50 quickly, triggering the mechanism for Brexit, the German Chancellor has resolved not to put any pressure on Mrs. May to do so.
In a television interview last night, Mrs. Merkel said that the new British government would need time to clarify “what kind of relationship they want with the European Union,” Euractiv has reported.
She said that this decision would then effect how the exit negotiations would proceed, adding, perhaps ominously, that Westminster would be given the time to “think it over carefully”.
However, she has made it clear that Europe will not be willing to roll over and acquiesce to British demands, when they come.
At an annual diplomatic corps reception in Meseberg on Monday, Mrs. Merkel said: “Of course the EU and the remaining 27 member states also have to protect their interests.
“For example, whoever would like to have free access to the European internal market will also have to accept all basic freedoms in return, including the free movement of people.”
The question of the free movement of people is set to become a pivotal issue in the negotiations, as Leave campaigners made it clear during the referendum debate that Britain’s immigration figures could not be managed while the free movement of people remained in place.
Mrs. May has previously said that she has no plans to invoke Article 50 until the end of the year, but it is not clear whether she will stick to that plan as events progress. She is expected to assign a minister to the Brexit process, with Chris Grayling being tipped as a possible candidate to fill that spot.
Mrs. Merkel said it was regrettable that Britain had decided to leave the EU, adding: “This is a watershed. But I am firmly convinced that the European Union is strong enough to absorb even this break.”
However, she said that changes would have to be made in the wake of Britain’s exit: Europe could not continue business as usual after the Brexit referendum. “We have to consider jointly what lessons we draw for the further process of European unification.
“We need to make Europe more competitive, strengthen research and innovation in promising economic sectors not only to avoid falling behind, but also to set European standards.
“We need structural reforms, we need solid finances,” Mrs. Merkel said.