Angela Merkel has said the UK has ‘illusions’ about the realities of Brexit and insisted talks on the UK’s divorce bill from the EU must be dealt with before trade negotiations can begin.
The German chancellor’s firm stance puts her on a collision course with Theresa May’s Hard Brexit Governemnt and the comments came as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted Britain will not pay a Brexit divorce bill before ‘substantive’ negotiations with the EU start.
Merkel’s insistence that the terms of exit – including the issue of the bill which could run to £50 billion – are dealt with first comes ahead of a crunch meeting of EU leaders on Saturday to discuss their approach to the Brexit negotiations.
Speaking in the Bundestag, Merkel was cheered as she struck a firm tone about Germany’s approach.
She stressed that a ‘third country’ – as the UK would be after Brexit – could not enjoy the same rights as a member of the EU. Merkel said she had the ‘feeling that some in Great Britain still have illusions’ about Brexit.
Highlighting the importance of settling the Brexit bill first, she said: ‘Without progress on the many open questions of the exit, including the financial questions, it makes no sense to have parallel negotiations over the future relationship.’
Prime Minister Theresa May wants the talks to take place at the same time in an effort to get the best possible deal on trade.
Johnson was not clear whether he opposed agreeing a divorce settlement or paying it before trade negotiations, but struck a defiant tone, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If you’re saying that they want the money before they get any substantive talks then that is obviously not going to happen.’
In a series of breakfast broadcast interviews, the leading Leave campaigner also defended his claim that Britain sends £350 million a week to Brussels that could otherwise be spent on the NHS, and claimed Germany blocked a UK Government request to reach an early agreement on the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British expats in Europe.
Merkel said: ‘We will of course do everything to minimise possible negative effects of Brexit for our citizens. In return we are of course prepared to make British citizens in Germany and other EU states a fair offer.
‘They certainly are and should remain an important part of our society.’