Angela Merkel emphasises need for EU unity in Brexit talks

Berlin confident co-operation between 27 states will hold in years of discussion ahead

German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that good results for the European Union, and Ireland specifically, in the Brexit talks hinge on continued unity among the EU's remaining 27 members.

Ahead of Saturday’s emergency EU summit, where EU leaders will agree a mandate for talks, the German leader said she was heartened by the show of unity among the EU27 leaders in the months since the UK Brexit vote.

As talks begin, she expressed confidence this line would hold in the years of complex talks ahead, given the “multitude of special interests” to be addressed.

"For instance if we think of the Republic of Ireland and its shared space with Britain and the problems in Northern Ireland, it was a good thing we held together."

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Given the complexity of the looming divorce talks, and the scores of issues to be considered, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is likely to consider a name-check for Ireland in the chancellor's Bundestag address a success for the Government's Brexit lobbying effort. Mr Kenny has met Dr Merkel twice in Berlin recently on Brexit.

Dr Merkel repeated her line that it “made no sense” to discuss Britain’s future relationship with the bloc until its exit was completed.

Constructive solutions

“The quicker the British government is ready for constructive solutions the quicker we can address its wish to deal with . . . the future relationship of the UK with the EU,” she said. “But, but first we have to know how Britain sees its future relationship with us.”

As well as the order of talks, she said a German priority would be to defend EU interests and prevent harm to its interests in talks. Most pressing, she said, was to secure agreement on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe.

Berlin was prepared to agree to a “fair deal” for UK citizens in the bloc if London was willing to do the same for EU citizens, including 100,000 German citizens, living in the UK.

A final priority for Berlin, she said, was to nail down agreement on London’s financial commitments to the EU, in particular those that live on beyond its departure from the bloc.

Megaphone diplomacy

“We are of the opinion that these talks should take place right at the end but are among the important issues that should be an issue from the start,” she said.

In a final blast of megaphone diplomacy, attracting applause in the Bundestag, the German leader said there were too many challenges in the world at present for the UK to expect the EU to be solely preoccupied with Brexit and UK concerns in the years ahead.

Particularly as Britain would, in future, be a third state in its dealings with the EU and could not enjoy the same or greater rights and privileges than EU memberships.

Listing the looming challenges, the German leader told MPs “you might think these are self-evident . . . But sadly I feel I have to mention them all again so clearly because I think some people in Britain still have illusions. That would be a waste of time.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin