Theresa May to meet Angela Merkel for initial Brexit talks

German chancellor set to repeat she sees Brexit ball firmly in British PM’s court

German chancellor Angela Merkel: will welcome Theresa May with military honours on her inaugural visit as British prime minister to Berlin on Wednesday. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld

German chancellor Angela Merkel: will welcome Theresa May with military honours on her inaugural visit as British prime minister to Berlin on Wednesday. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld

 

British prime minister Theresa May will be welcomed by Chancellor Angela Merkel with military honours on her inaugural visit to Berlin today.

In a day of firsts, Ms May will take her first prime minister’s questions before her first foreign trip since becoming British prime minister last week. The Berlin trip is her first meeting with Dr Merkel, the first foreign leader she telephoned last week from her new address: 10 Downing Street.

After a short 45-minute meeting, too short for anything but a perfunctory meet-and-greet, the two women will give a joint press conference which a global audience – as well as financial markets – will follow closely: reading the body language and weighing every word closely for signs of agreement or dissent over the timing and nature of looming Brexit talks.

With difficult technical talks ahead, both leaders will today be anxious to stress the common will for a good deal, if only to to limit the lingering political and economic uncertainty since the June vote. But the two leaders know they are powerful rivals, likely to clash soon given their competing interests: Ms May is anxious to secure the maximum deal for a post-EU Britain while Dr Merkel, while willing to be constructive, wants to scare off copycats by pushing for a deal that doesn’t appear to reward London for leaving the union.

In their meeting, Dr Merkel will repeat that she sees the Brexit ball firmly in Ms May’s court.

Relationship with EU

European Union

On Thursday, Ms May heads to Paris to meet French president Francois Hollande, even more strident than Dr Merkel in demanding a quick divorce.

Today’s Berlin meeting of two powerful women in a political world dominated by men will summon up inevitable, obvious comparisons. Both are childless daughters of pastors and both are known for their low-key political style that avoids lofty visions in favour of pragmatism.

Ms May, a low-key Remain campaigner, has shown her political pragmatism in office by committing to leave the EU, insisting that “Brexit means Brexit”. But Dr Merkel has been even more pragmatic than her visitor on what lies ahead for Britain and the EU, saying she sees no way – at present at least – to avoid Britain’s departure.

But perhaps the most interesting tie that binds the two leaders is how they rose to the top after their male bosses were felled by self-inflicted disaster. That prompted the Berliner Zeitung daily to portray today’s visit as a meeting of Machiavellian minds. In a caricature, Dr Merkel tells her British visitor over tea: “You just have to let the men do their thing . . .”, prompting Ms May to continue: “ . . . and then at some point you get their jobs.”