If there was one thing that was clear from May’s meeting with Merkel yesterday, then it was that Brexit will not be happening immediately. May stressed that securing a ‘sensible and orderly departure’ from the EU would take time. Nonetheless, it was quite clear that May intends to ensure that Britain remains a part of the Single Market as she stressed that Britain would not ‘walk away’ from the EU and she wanted to retain the ‘closest economic links’ with the EU. This demonstrates that May is also taking the views of those who voted to remain in the EU as seriously as those who voted to leave. Losing access to the Single Market was a crucial factor that persuaded 48% of the population to vote to remain in the EU. With the markets panicking frantically about losing access to the Single Market, any unique British deal with the EU would need to ensure that access is maintained in the event of what was a very close vote in the end.
Merkel stated that she also wanted the ‘best result’ for Britain, but, like many of those working in business badly damaged by a lack of confidence, she wanted more clarity on when Article 50 will be triggered. However, May reiterated that it was clear Article 50 will not be triggered until the UK’s ‘objectives were clear.’ Therefore, it is quite clear that both May and Davis will continue to consult the devolved institutions in the UK in the meantime. This strategy is key to ensuring that there is a broad base of support for a Brexit framework for Britain due to the inevitable constitutional implications Brexit will have on the devolved institutions as much as Westminster.
As Britain has voted to leave the EU, this inevitably places Germany in a more powerful position than they were in prior to Britain’s vote to depart from the EU. Understandably, Merkel is no doubt seething about the fact that Germany’s EU budgetary contributions will increase and that she has lost a key ally in Britain due to the political similarities between Merkel and May. Both leaders lead centre-right parties in their respective countries. Considering Germany will have considerable influence over Britain’s departure, May was right to go on the charm offensive in order to gain Merkel’s support during the Brexit negotiations. For example, May stressed that Germany is a ‘vital partner and special friend’ to Britain despite the outcome of the vote on June 23rd. Equally, May argued that whilst she understands Merkel wants more clarity over when Article 50 will be implemented, preparing for Brexit would require ‘serious and detailed work.’ May was right to demonstrate a balanced approach in seeking Germany’s support for Brexit given Brexit will not happen overnight and because Germany possesses significant clout over future negotiations.
May went even further with the charm offensive by presenting Merkel with two books as birthday gifts for her 62nd birthday. The two books were Coast To Coast With Wainwright – a pictorial guide to illustrate Alfred Wainwright’s walking route between northern England’s west and east coasts – and the other book was Great Mountain Days In Snowdonia, which contains a guide to walks in the National Park.
Again, May made it clear that trade and access to markets will be two of the underlying principles shadowing the Brexit negotiations:
“So it’s good that we start from such a strong foundation and a position where both our countries believe in liberal markets and free trade and these should be the principles that guide us in the discussions ahead.”
In an age where politics is condemned for not ensuring that enough women are entering the political limelight and not reaching the top positions due to the male-orientated nature of politics, it was particularly refreshing to view two women leading two of the most powerful nations in the world. It became apparent that May and Merkel want to ensure that both of their countries gain the best outcome from Brexit negotiations. May stressed that they were two women who want to “get on with the job and deliver the best possible results for the people of the UK and Germany”. It is quite obvious that they both have chemistry and a rapport due to their mirroring political convictions.
So their meeting represents a positive start for Brexit. But with Francois Hollande and Merkel facing elections next year, they are both under significant domestic pressure to deliver a satisfactory outcome in their respective countries. The most disappointing news coming from yesterday’s meeting was that Merkel insisted there will be no special exceptions for Britain in regards to retaining access to the Single Market whilst being able to control freedom of movement. Merkel and Hollande still clearly fail to understand people’s concerns across Europe about freedom of movement and if they will not budge on this issue, May will face the wrath of 52% of the electorate who voted to leave the EU to guarantee that Britain can control immigration in the future. The implications for the EU will be profound if Merkel refuses to compromise freedom of movement when it is clear ‘special deals’ have been made for countries like Lichtenstein and Iceland in the past.