German minister tells Britain ‘let’s stay friends’ despite Brexit

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the unity of the other 27 EU member states would be Germany's highest priority in the talks.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the unity of the other 27 EU member states would be Germany's highest priority in the talks. PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the European Union and Britain need each other and should maintain friendly relations, although it was “hard to understand” why Britons should think they’re better off alone.

Gabriel on Wednesday (March 29) made clear the unity of the other 27 EU member states would be Germany’s highest priority in the talks. 

“The negotiations will surely not be easy for either side,” he said in remarks prepared to coincide with Britain’s triggering of the exit talks.  “Bad feelings are understandable. For many it is difficult to understand, especially in these turbulent times, how anyone can believe they would be better off alone. But this can’t be the basis for defining our future relationship.” 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government will fully support the European Commission and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to “enforce our common interests in the negotiations,” he added. 

The remaining 27 EU countries are prepared, know what they want and have provided the commission with a strong mandate, according to Gabriel.

“Britain remains our neighbour, like the European Union for the British,” Gabriel said. “The stale-sounding sentence in private matters of ‘let’s stay friends’ after a divorce is therefore right in this case.”

Gabriel’s comments reflect a German desire to maintain ties with a major trading partner upon which the country’s companies depend for financial services while ensuring EU unity during the Brexit talks. Gabriel plans to travel to London next week for his first visit as foreign minister.

“For Germany, it is a clear guideline for the negotiations that the Europe of the 27 stay together and that we not only maintain the great European project, but that we develop it further and prepare ourselves also for future storms,” Gabriel said.

The German  Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer, however, said  the time-frame  for the talks was “damn narrow”  and “all of the participants know that, including the Brits.”

“There are innumerable issues that need to be clarified to prevent uncertainty on both sides of the English Channel as uncertainty is poison for people, the EU citizens, the Germans who live in Britain and don’t know what their future status might be and vice-versa for British citizens in the EU,” he said. 

Schaefer said uncertainty was “poison” for economic and trade ties as well as investment and added that there was a whole stack of issues that needed to be tackled in negotiations in the coming months. “Sometimes you wonder if everyone in London has understood what consequences that has, especially for the British economy," he said.