The U.K. and the EU can find a “fair balance” in Brexit trade talks that would not mean the U.K. “cherry-picking” the most beneficial aspects of single market access, Angela Merkel said Friday.
Speaking in Berlin after meeting Theresa May, the German chancellor insisted she is not “frustrated” by the U.K.’s failure so far to give a detailed account of its goals in the future economic relationship with the EU — “just curious.”
However, she appeared to offer an olive branch by suggesting that the U.K.’s hopes of a bespoke deal may be achievable. Asked about bespoke arrangements — as opposed to the starker options of single market membership or a Canada-style trade deal — she said it was “not a given” that such an arrangement “means cherry-picking.”
“In the end the outcome needs to be a fair balance that deviates from the single market and is not as close a partnership as we’ve had, but I think one can find that,” she said, according to the official translation of her remarks.
Merkel’s characterization of her post-Brexit preferred trade deal as one that is “as close as possible but … different to what Britain currently has as a member,” will be welcomed by U.K. officials pursuing a middle way between full participation in the single market and a limited free-trade agreement that would be unlikely to provide deep trade ties for British financial services firms.
May, who will set out the U.K.’s goals for the future security and law enforcement relationship with the EU at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, countered suggestions she has not been forthcoming with the U.K.’s plan, saying the Brexit negotiation “isn’t just a one way street.”
However, she confirmed that she would be “saying something in the coming weeks” on her plans for the future economic partnership.
Her Cabinet is yet to finally approve the U.K.’s negotiating stance, but May is expected to deliver a speech outlining the U.K.’s aims in more detail at some point between next week — when ministers will meet for an away day to settle outstanding issues — and the March European Council summit.
Cabinet ministers are split between those who want to align closely with EU rules and regulations in most areas to maintain the closest possible trade ties, and those who want to diverge from EU rules, allowing more room for maneuver in post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.
“I want to ensure that U.K. companies have the maximum freedom to trade and operate within German markets — and for German businesses to do the same in the U.K.,” May said.
The two leaders met for over an hour, a U.K. official said, covering Brexit, but also the U.K. and Germany’s interest in maintaining the Iran nuclear deal, and countering shared security threats.
Officials traveling with May expressed satisfaction with the meeting, pointing out that Merkel was offered a chance to express frustration with the U.K., in response to a journalist’s question — and declined.