February 16, 2018 / 4:58 PM / a year ago

Brexit deal should strike 'fair balance', says Germany's Merkel

BERLIN (Reuters) - A Brexit deal should strike a balance to ensure Britain clearly diverges from the European Union’s single market but keeps close economic ties with the bloc, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a news conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Berlin, Germany, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

With little more than a year to go before Britain leaves the EU, Merkel struck an upbeat tone after the talks, which she described as “a very constructive, friendly meeting”. She said Germany had not fundamentally changed its position on Brexit.

“We regret (Brexit), but we want to lead the negotiations such that we have as constructive and close a partnership with Britain as is possible after the exit, both economically and politically,” Merkel told a joint news conference with May.

May also said she wanted close economic ties after Brexit, but there has been little agreement so far on what will happen after March 2019.

Britain is hoping to negotiate a Brexit trade deal with the EU that maintains high levels of access to the bloc’s single market. The EU says Britain will lose access if it sticks to its plan to end the free movement of workers from the bloc and no longer follow judgments of the European Court of Justice.

Earlier on Friday, British government officials said London was gearing up to push for the kind of Brexit plan on financial services that the City of London has long favored, but which has already run into opposition in Brussels.

“In the end, there needs to be a fair balance of divergence, from the single market for example, and on the other hand a partnership that is not too close,” Merkel said.

“This can be achieved and the (EU)27 will ensure that the relationship is as close as possible but that there is a difference to (EU) membership,” she added.

May said she wanted a Brexit deal that was good for companies in Britain and the rest of the European Union.

“I want to ensure that UK companies have the maximum freedom to trade and operate within German markets, and for German businesses to do the same in the UK,” she told the news conference in Berlin.

Merkel said she was not frustrated with the Brexit negotiations but that they needed to progress.

“We want to adhere to the timetable, that means we are under time pressure,” she said. “But we also want to do things thoroughly and that means we must have regular exchanges.”

May is hoping to negotiate a transition deal next month which would leave Britain’s relationship with the EU virtually unchanged for around two years.

She also has to settle internal differences within her Conservative Party which is split between those advocating a clean break from the EU, like her foreign minister Boris Johnson, and those who want as little disruption as possible to minimize the hit to Britain’s economy, such as finance minister Philip Hammond.

Merkel was asked by reporters if she was frustrated by the halting pace of the Brexit negotiations.

“We are perhaps both sides in a process of learning and of finding where we can find a joint result,” she said. “I find these exchanges very honest and good. There will need to be many more of them, but frustration is not an accurate description.”

Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin and by William Schomberg in London; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Raissa Kasolowsky

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