Angela Merkel warns UK against Brexit ‘illusions’

Angela Merkel warns UK against Brexit ‘illusions’

Angela Merkel has claimed the UK has “illusions” about the realities of Brexit and insisted talks on the UK’s divorce bill from the European Union must be dealt with before negotiations on any trade deal can begin.
The German chancellor’s stance puts her on a collision course with the UK, as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisted Britain will not pay a Brexit divorce bill before “substantive” negotiations with the EU start.
Mrs 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, Mrs Merkel was cheered as she struck a firm tone about Germany’s approach.
Mrs Merkel stressed that a “third country” – as the UK would be after Brexit – could not enjoy the same rights as a member of the EU.
She said she had the “feeling that some in Great Britain still have illusions” about Brexit and “that is a waste of time”.
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.
Mr 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.
Mrs 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.”
But Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “We made an offer by the way before Christmas that we would do a deal in advance of the negotiations, that was turned down you may recall by Germany, we’re left in a position where we have to do a reciprocal deal, and we’re fine with that.
“What we want to see is the rights on both sides protected.”
The Foreign Secretary also defended the widely disputed slogan – emblazoned on the side of his battlebus during last year’s EU referendum campaign – that “we send the EU £350 million a week, let’s spend it on our NHS instead”.
The claim was denounced by the official statistician as “misleading” and has since been disowned by senior members of the Brexit campaign.
But challenged over whether he stood by it, Mr Johnson told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain “of course I do,” and insisted the figure was “not disputed”.
He described the sum as “£350 million a week which we do not currently control which could be spent on our priorities, including the NHS”.
During the referendum campaign, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, took the unusual step of saying he was “disappointed” that the Leave campaign persisted with the £350 million figure after being warned it was “misleading”.
The figure does not take account of the UK’s rebate, secured by Margaret Thatcher, or the cash returned to Britain by the EU.
Mr Johnson’s comments came as a poll suggested that, for the first time since the June 23 referendum, a majority of voters think the decision to leave the EU was wrong.
Some 45% of those questioned by YouGov for The Times said that in hindsight they believed Britain was wrong to vote for withdrawal – up two points on a month ago – compared with 43% who thought the decision was right – down three points.
:: YouGov questioned 1,590 adults on April 25 and 26.

Brian Reyes

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