PM Press Conference with Chancellor Merkel, 16 Feb 2018
A joint press conference, held on 16 February 2018 from Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, ahead of attending the 2018 Munich Security Conference.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to be able to welcome the British Prime Minister Theresa May to Berlin today. She will go on and stand to participate in the Munich Security Conference. We have a very close exchange of views, both on Britain leaving the European Union, and on the international agenda, and our intensive cooperation on all global issues.
We basically have not changed our stance on Britain’s leaving the European Union. We deplore it, but we want to adopt a constructive position because we want to have as close as possible a partnership with Britain even after leaving the European Union, both economically and politically. We were guided by this spirit when talking about leaving, when talking about the transition period, and in March, we will deal with the issue of the guidelines for our future relationship.
For us as Germans, we would like to see a situation where we as 27 act together in these negotiations, but obviously bilateral talks are of prime importance in this particular phase and at this particular stage. All this is a process that is ongoing, we’re all developing our ideas about this, so we will very much look forward to Britain, again, setting out its ideas. The speech in Florence was a very important speech in this respect, and we will obviously follow very carefully what other statements will be made in the period leading up to the March Council. And then we will also try and coordinate very closely on the future guidelines as we work on them.
We would like to initiate those negotiations because we are under a certain amount of time pressure, but obviously, we also want to be very diligent, very careful, in working on this, which means we will have frequent exchanges of views.
Looking at global challenges, we talked about the nuclear agreement with Iran. There’s a very close coordination here, and also a common position of the European partners of Britain, therefore, also and of Germany. We also talked about Britain hosting this year the so-called Berlin Process, as a conference with the countries of the Western Balkans. I must say that I’m delighted to note that, irrespective of Britain leaving the European Union, this perspective of the Western Balkans is seen as a very important point also about Britain in order to ensure a peaceful order for the whole of Europe.
We talked about Ukraine and the conflict there, and about how we can achieve progress there. And we also talked about Syria, we voiced our concerns about the situation there on the ground. Obviously, Turkey has a legitimate interest in ensuring its own security, but everything that can lead to tensions among NATO partners has to be avoided at all costs. And then we will coordinate very closely on this, as well. So, it was a very constructive talk guided by a spirit of friendship of partnership, so yet again, a very warm welcome to you, Theresa, here to Berlin.
Prime Minister May
It’s a pleasure to be in Berlin once again and I thank Chancellor Merkel for hosting these talks today. You may recall, she was the first Head of Government that I visited after becoming Prime Minister in 2016, I think underlining the importance of the relationship between our two countries.
Our partnership is vital in defending our shared values and promoting our interests around the world. We are standing side-by-side in Eastern Europe as part of NATO efforts to reassure our allies and deter Russian aggression.
Our Armed Forces are supporting the Iraqi Government to liberate territory in their brave fight against Daesh in the Middle East.
And in areas such as global health, climate change, clean energy, UK-Germany cooperation has shaped the international agenda.
In our talks today, we have discussed the speech I will give to the Munich security conference tomorrow, in which I will reiterate that the UK remains unconditionally committed to European security – and set out my vision for a unique new partnership between the EU and the UK on defence, information sharing, security and law enforcement.
Because as the threats we face grow and evolve, our structures and capabilities must keep pace. Whether the challenge comes from North Korea’s attempts to nuclearise the Korean Peninsula or the Islamist terrorists that continue to seek to do us harm. We must work together and use all the levers at our disposal to keep people across Europe safe.
On foreign policy, we already work very closely together.
Today Chancellor Merkel and I have reaffirmed our commitment to the Iran nuclear deal and the need for full implementation by all sides that we made in October last year. And we agreed that as we continue to work to preserve the deal we also share US concerns about Iran’s destabilising activity in the Middle East. We stand ready to take further appropriate measures to tackle these issues.
We also discussed the Western Balkans Conference, which I look forward to Chancellor Merkel attending in London in July.
Prosperity and Brexit
Of course, it is not only in defence of our shared values that the UK and Germany rely on one another.
Trade between our nations secures and generates hundreds of thousands of jobs in both countries, with hard work, enterprise and innovation at its foundation. Our proud history of commerce goes back to at least the 12th century with the trade between the Hanseatic cities and English ports. And it is vital to people in both the UK and Germany that this shared tradition continues.
And so we have referred in our discussions to the UK’s vision for a bold and ambitious economic partnership once the UK leaves 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.
Much progress has already been made in the Brexit negotiations and we both welcomed the agreement reached last December to secure rights for more than a hundred thousand German nationals in the UK and a similar number of UK citizens living here in Germany. We’re now ready to enter into the next phase of negotiations and our immediate goal is to agree a time-limited implementation period, with the latest round of talks between the UK and the Commission due to begin on Monday.
The UK and Germany’s shared history, values and culture make us vital partners and strong allies both bilaterally and through NATO, the G7 and the G20. And we will continue to work together to strengthen these ties for years and decades to come.
Prime Minister, do you understand your fellow leader’s frustration that 18 months after taking office, you’re still unable to say, beyond the words “deep and special”, or today, “bold and ambitious”, what Britain wants? Will you be able to tell Chancellor Merkel any more detail today, or must that continue to wait for your Cabinet colleagues to agree with one another?
And Chancellor Merkel, did you again ask the Prime Minister, ‘What does Britain want?’ And did you learn anything today that you didn’t know yesterday?
Prime Minister May:
Well, first of all, we have been setting out – as I said right at the very beginning of this process, we will be setting out at different times the next sort of stage of the process. I’ve done that through the Lancaster House speech, through the Florence speech. Tomorrow, I’m going to be setting out our ambition for a security partnership between the UK and the European Union as we move forward, and we’ll be saying something in the coming weeks in relation to our future economic partnership.
But what we’re doing – the stage we’re at is, first of all, ensuring that we agree the time-limited implementation period. This was a principle that was agreed in the December discussions, when sufficient progress was declared in that joint report. And then, of course, we go ahead to start the negotiations, to looking at that future economic partnership.
But it isn’t just a one-way street: I think that’s what’s important. Actually, I want a future economic partnership that is good for the European Union, is good for Germany, is good for the other members of – remaining members of the European Union, and is good for the United Kingdom, and I believe that through the negotiations, we can achieve just that economic relationship, alongside us, obviously, ensuring we continue to have a good security partnership, too.
Well, first of all, let me say that I’m not frustrated at all; I’m just curious how Britain envisages this future partnership, and obviously, we’ll also have our own vested interests, as regards, for example, economic commitments. We would like to preserve this close partnership, and maybe both sides, in a way, are in a process of learning, of trying to find out where we find common ground. For this, what we need is a permanent exchange, because we sometimes don’t know how our opposite number is seeing things, and I think that this is a very candid exchange that we’ve had. We will need to have further exchanges, but frustration doesn’t at all describe it appropriately.
Two questions, madam Chancellor. This is already your fourth press conference with an international guest within 24 hours, so does that mean that you are back on international stage and are trying to make a mark after a period of absence, so to speak? And what does this mean for the Brexit negotiations of your being back on the international stage being more visible? That’s my question addressed to you.
And a question addressed to the Prime Minister in very concrete terms, particularly as regards to German business community, there is a very great concern that has been voiced because there’s a high degree of uncertainty. Could you say how you want to ensure German companies in future being able to trade freely with Britain and also vice versa? Particularly in financial industry there seem to be many open issues yet. Can you say anything in more concrete terms yet?
Well, there are always, let’s say, intervals, not only now. As you know, with the former government, I had international visits, for example, the EU Africa conference or Davos. I’ve had obviously also appearances there, but when you are in coalition agreements and things – things come to sort of a head, then obviously you cannot host a foreign guest.
But obviously the Brexit negotiations are something that we follow very closely. Even as acting government we are in contact with those who lead those negotiations. Parliament, too, is interested. We want to be an active partner. We don’t want to delay matters. We’ve always been guided by this spirit and I think we’ve been able to do this.
Prime Minister May:
I’ll take the second question. Of course the point is we’re entering negotiations with the European Union, which will determine in detail the nature of that future relationship, but as I’ve said earlier, I think it is absolutely clear that that partnership, that economic partnership, will be one and can be one that will be of benefit both to German businesses that want to continue to operate and trade with the United Kingdom, and the UK business that want to continue to trade and cooperate with Germany and with other members of the remaining EU 27.
And what we’re looking at is, I believe, a comprehensive and ambitious partnership. One that isn’t based on an existing model, but one that actually recognises the different position of the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union, recognises the close ties we already have and recognises the importance of those trade links and those businesses cooperating that will have been – you referred to from Germany – German companies. That obviously is also important to UK companies as well.
Prime Minister, you say that this is a two-way process. Do you accept, though, that it is for the British government to set out what its plans are and not for the EU to make you an offer?
And to the Chancellor, what the Prime Minister just said is that she wants a negotiation that is not based on any current models. Is that not cherry picking, and do you think you can accept something that is bespoke in that way?
On the first question, the point of negotiations is two parties sit down and talk about these issues and come to an agreement about those issues. As I said in – earlier in answer to the first question, we have, at different stages, set out and clarified different aspects of the future relationship that we want to have with the European Union. Tomorrow I’ll be doing that very clearly in relation to the security partnership. And that again will be a new arrangement.
I think that’s important because we’re all facing the same challenges and threats, and now is not the time for us to reduce cooperation. Now is the time for us to look to see how we can develop on the existing cooperation in a way that’s going to be dynamic and agile for the future. Because as the threats evolve, as they grow, they don’t recognise borders, so we need to continue that cooperation and be able to adapt to the threats as they come. So I’ll be setting out tomorrow in more detail what I think that security partnership should look like.
Well, it’s not absolutely – it is not absolutely a given that a situation that is already known and is not yet a traditional, a classical trade agreement means cherry picking. In the end, the outcome needs to be a fair balance that deviates, let’s say, from the single market and not as close a partnership as we’ve had, but I think one can find that. And we, as 27, will be very carefully vetting that process and see to it that it is as close as possible, but that it’s a difference to the current – to what currently Britain has as a member, which is what they want, and what the British people want. But this does not need – this does not mean that it needs to be cherry picking.
Madam Chancellor, can you tell us what, for you, the two or three remaining most difficult bones of contentions are on the Brexit negotiations? And Mr Yildirim yesterday actually on – handed over an invitation on behalf of President Erdoğan, and has this already met with a concrete answer?
And Prime Minister, Ireland is obviously a very tricky as regards Brexit. The Irish do not want – there is not to be a hard border, but at the same time you wish to leave the single market. So how does one shape this border in an acceptable way?
Your first question was, sorry? Oh, the bones of contention. Well, what’s important is that on the day after the transition period has ended, all of those different areas actually work properly, so we have to be very careful that we have the right rules and regulations in place, for example to enable tourists to meet, their planes can start, that we have proper healthcare systems in place. All of that has to be settled. And then we have to think of trade relations and services relations. Where does Britain want to participate and where not? All of that will come out in the course of those negotiations, so there is not this one single crux of the matter, this one single bone of contention. I’’s a very complex structure of negotiations, and we need to come to a fairly balanced approach for both sides. That’s what I intend, at least.
And on the visit to Turkey, I have taken note of this invitation. I also talked to President Erdoğan on the – about possible visits to Turkey, or perhaps the Turkish President coming here. But we haven’t made any specific sort of decision on this.
Prime Minister May:
On the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Irish government, the UK government and the people of Northern Ireland are all clear that there will be no hard border. When we came to the agreement of the Joint Report with the European Commission in December, which was the basis for the agreement that sufficient progress had been made to move to the next stage of the talks, we set out various ways in which that could be addressed. As the Taoiseach said on Monday, the preference is for that to be done – the arrangement to be part of the overall agreement that the UK will have with the European Union. That is looking at that new partnership where there will be a new balance of rights and obligations that we have to – will be discussing through the next stage of the negotiations.