The German Chancellor insisted it is not for Brussels to define the UK’s future relationship with the bloc. The veteran leader said the EU should instead listen to British negotiators before deciding whether a compromise is possible. “We need to let go of the idea that it is for us to define what Britain should want,” Mrs Merkel told a group of European newspapers.
“That is for Britain to define – and we, the EU27, will respond appropriately.”
The German leader’s intervention comes as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, continues to demand the same levels of access to Britain’s fishing waters and a strict regulatory level-playing field, with a role for the European Court of Justice, as the price for any deal.
But Mrs Merkel warned any Brexit agreement must not undermine the EU’s single market.
She said Boris Johnson would have to live with the consequences of weakened trade ties with the bloc.
“With Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the British government wants to define for itself what relationship it will have with us after the country leaves,” Mrs Merkel said.
“It will then have to live with the consequences, of course, that is to say with a less closely interconnected economy.
“If Britain does not want to have rules on the environment and the labour market or social standards that compare with those of the EU, our relations will be less close. That will mean it does not want standards to go on developing along parallel lines.”
Mrs Merkel is set to play an influential role in the remaining Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU when she takes over the bloc’s six-month rotating presidency next month.
But the German suggested the trade talks will still play second fiddle to the EU’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
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Mr Barnier claimed he could walk away from trade negotiations if British negotiators refuse to soften their fisheries demands.
He said: “If the UK sticks to its positions there will be no discussion on fisheries and no discussion on trade – we are open to find a compromise.”
The Brussels bureaucrat, however, said progress is being made in a number of areas, including police and nuclear cooperation.
Mr Barnier insisted that he has enough “flexibility” in the mandate handed to him by European capitals to conclude a deal.
“I have enough trust from the European Parliament and European Council to find a margin of flexibility,” he said.