Brexit: Merkel praises May’s resilience but says Britain must decide path
German chancellor warns delays to Brexit cannot undermine European elections
German chancellor Angela Merkel: ‘It’s impressive how May is fighting’. Photograph: Eva Plevier/Reuters
German chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for a short Brexit extension came with rare words of public praise for her UK colleague.
After backing an extended EU departure for the UK, she warned that the EU was offering a “short deadline, so Britain must soon indicate which path it wishes to take”.
“It’s impressive how May is fighting,” said Dr Merkel of the British prime minister, but warned that Brexit delays cannot “undermine” the European Parliament elections.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki took credit for intervening to prevent the Brussels meeting ending in disarray. He insisted the Thursday evening deal had taken a disorderly Brexit off the table next week after his mission “not to increase the heat but to lower it”.
“The original version of the text prepared by the president of the European Council created a much higher risk for a non-contractual, chaotic Brexit, in a week already,” said Mr Morawiecki to Polish media. “Our council proposal gives us time to look for other solutions, even in the case of an unsuccessful vote.”
Not everyone was in a conciliatory mood. Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said a disorderly Brexit was still likely if the British parliament rejected the withdrawal agreement for a third time.
“If there isn’t a majority, then a hard Brexit will once again move a step closer,” said Mr Kurz, dismissing as “absurd” the idea of the UK fielding European election candidates.
“If a country is leaving the EU, then it would be more than strange if they still took part in the European elections.”
Some non-EU onlookers in Brussels insisted there was still very much an “imminent danger” of Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal.
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg said “the most important thing” for British MPs now was not to “just vote down proposals but vote for a way forward”.
The non-EU Norwegian leader was speaking in Brussels to mark the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Area, with counterparts from Iceland and Liechtenstein, a club to with the UK has expressed interest in joining.
Back in Germany, reaction to the deal was mixed with some suggesting, to use the Brexiteer slogan, the EU had decided to “take back control” of the political process.
Some German political analysts expressed concern that London’s loitering without intent in the EU was not good for the bloc’s future.
“A Brexit extension to the end of May means, from a continental Europe perspective, a monothematic European election campaign which will hinder necessary debate about other important future themes for Europe,” said Prof Ulrike Guérot, founder of the European Democracy Lab and professor of European politics at the Danube University, Krems.
Other analysts expressed concerns that further extensions would push the process into post-vote renewal of European institutions.
“It’s worth the risk pushing London towards hopefully approving the withdrawal agreement by mid-April,” said Almut Möller, senior policy office at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) Berlin office.
German business lobbyists warned that the delay offered no solution for companies across the continent, in particular Europe’s leading export economy.
“By extending the deadline, the tortuous insecurity for firms has only been extended,” said Joachim Lang, head of the BDI industry federation. “Whether an extended deadline really leads to an orderly exit is more than uncertain.”
Echoing impatience elsewhere, Germany’s Die Zeit said the EU “has better things to do than pre-occupy itself with Brexit”. Its post-summit Brexit plea to the UK: “Go with God, but go.”