Angela Merkel today rejected Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit plan, saying Britain could not have free access to Europe’s single market for goods without accepting the rest of the EU’s four freedoms.
The German Chancellor said that Britain had still not expressed a clear position on its post-Brexit relations with the EU, warning that only ‘six to eight weeks’ remained to reach an agreement.
She told a business conference in Berlin that success in the upcoming negotiations depended ‘largely on what it is Britain really wants, and on this the discussion has still not been entirely clear”.
But ominously for May’s Chequers proposals, Merkel reiterated the stance of the remaining 27 EU members that ‘you can’t belong to a single market if you want to stick to just one of its principles but not the other three’.
Brussels fears May wants Britain to keep the benefits of free trade on goods with the EU without following its three other core principles, the free movement of people, services and capital over borders.
Merkel told the conference that six to eight weeks of hard work lay ahead to reach a possible deal next month.
She said: “The economy needs clarity… what is important is what Britain really wants – the discussion there is not so clear.”
Any proposal should ‘formulate in the most concrete terms possible’ what future relations should look like, the chancellor said.
Otherwise, she warned, ‘the transition period could become too short to reach any kind of reasonable agreement’.
Following her humiliating rebuff from EU leaders in Salzburg last week, the prime minister had attempted to come back fighting, saying there could be no further progress in Brexit talks unless the EU put forward fresh ideas on Northern Ireland and trade.
Standing at a lectern before two Union flags in 10 Downing Street, May said the EU’s dismissal of her Chequers plan was “not acceptable” and demanded “respect”.
“No-one wants a good deal more than me, but the European Union should be clear – I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country,” she said.
“We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations and we stand ready.”
Acknowledging that talks had reached an “impasse” with just six months to go to Brexit day on March 29, the PM left no doubt she was ready to contemplate crashing out of the EU with no deal.
She said the government will do “everything in our power” to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.
May promised to draw up alternative proposals to unblock the Irish border issue ahead of a crunch summit on October 18 – described as the “moment of truth” by European Council President Donald Tusk.
But she stood by the blueprint agreed by the Cabinet at her country residence in July as “the best way” to protect jobs in Britain and Europe and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
She blamed the EU side for failing to explain its objections to her blueprint, which would see the UK enter a free trade area for goods with a “common rulebook” or to put forward its own ideas.