Germany accepts Britain's decision to delay Brexit

UK’s new prime minister Theresa May says her country needs more time to plan a sensible and orderly departure from the EU.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) review the honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Chancellery in Berlin on July 20, 2016.

Germany and Britain agreed on Wednesday that Prime Minister Theresa May needs time to prepare for talks to leave the EU, after London took the first step towards its exit from the European Union, or a Brexit, by giving up its presidency of the bloc.

On her first foreign visit after taking office in the wake of the Brexit referendum, May told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that her government would not ask to leave the European Union before the end of 2016 in order to plan a "sensible and orderly departure".

"We will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear, which is why I've said already this will not happen before the end of this year," May said in Berlin, referring to the formal EU mechanism to leave the bloc.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May address a news conference following talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on July 20, 2016.

Merkel, who is expected to play a pivotal role in the Brexit talks, said it was in the interests of all that Britain had a "well-defined position" before beginning the negotiations.

"No one wants things to be up in the air -- neither Britain nor the member states of the EU," Merkel said.

"If we look at all matters and challenges facing us, it's most important to have Britain as a partner and we will do so and then negotiate on Britain leaving," she added.

Britain had earlier said it would no longer assume the six-month rotating presidency next July as planned, choosing instead to prioritise negotiations on implementing last month's vote to leave the EU.

Estonia's turn, which had been due to start in January 2018, is set to be brought forward by six months to take Britain's place, a spokesman for EU president Donald Tusk said after the announcement.

May has repeatedly asked for patience as her new government maps out its strategy for ending its 43-year-old membership of the EU despite some EU countries wanting Britain out of the bloc as soon as possible.

'Not walking away'

"I've been clear that Brexit means Brexit and the UK is going to make a success of it," May said, but stressed that Britain was "not walking away” from its “European friends".

"It's in that constructive spirit I've come here today to lay the foundation for a strong relationship in the months and years to come," she said.

A key sticking point in the Brexit negotiations is likely to be the freedom of EU citizens to live and work throughout the bloc.

Merkel has warned that Britain cannot have continued access to the single market while restricting the freedom of movement -- an emotive issue in the June 23 referendum.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meet for talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on July 20, 2016.

Following a working dinner with Merkel, May will travel to Paris for talks with French President Francois Hollande. Hollande has a presidential election looming next year and is coming under pressure from the far-right National Front, which wants France to leave the EU too.

Cameron guilty of ‘gross negligence’

Meanwhile in London, a parliamentary committee said on Wednesday that former British prime minister David Cameron was guilty of "gross negligence" in not having a contingency plan for Britain leaving the European Union.

Cameron's "considered view not to instruct key departments including the Foreign Office to plan for the possibility that the electorate would vote to leave the EU amounted to gross negligence," said the report, adding that it had left the Foreign Office under-staffed and under-resourced, and facing the risk of losing more staff to new departments dealing directly with the Brexit.

TRTWorld and agencies