Angela Merkel has called on fellow European leaders to give the UK more time to avoid a disorderly exit from the EU, even as Theresa May repeated her desire for Brexit to be completed next month.
In remarks that highlighted Berlin’s conciliatory stance ahead of this week’s crucial European summit on Brexit, Ms Merkel warned: “We have only 59 hours to avoid a disorderly UK exit from the EU. That scenario of a disorderly Brexit is not in our interest.”
Speaking to the German parliament on Wednesday, she said that the British prime minister had assured her during a visit on Tuesday “of her firm intention to find a way out of this situation together with the opposition in the House of Commons”.
Ms Merkel said: “We know that such cross-party negotiations require endurance and the ability to compromise. That is why the [German] federal government believes we should give the two parties a decent amount of time so that an orderly Brexit can be achieved together with the UK.”
As Mrs May arrived in Brussels for talks with European leaders on a Brexit extension, she said that she still hoped Britain would be able to leave the EU by May 22 and avoid taking part in European elections.
The UK prime minister said her priority was to ensure that any deal to delay Brexit would still allow the UK to leave as soon as parliament passed the withdrawal agreement she has negotiated with the bloc.
“I know many people will be frustrated that the summit is taking place at all, because the UK should have left the EU by now”, Mrs May told reporters as she arrived for the meeting. “I and the government continue to work to find a way forward. We have been talking with the opposition and these have been serious and constructive talks.”
Mrs May has come to the summit with a proposal for a Brexit extension until June 30, with Britain currently poised to crash out of the bloc on Friday unless leaders grant more time.
“What is important is that any extension enables us to leave at the point at which we ratify the withdrawal agreement. So we could leave on May 22 and start to build our brighter future,” Mrs May said.
But her proposal has won little support, with many other leaders instead backing a far longer extension.
Speaking earlier in the day, the German chancellor did not spell out how long exactly such a Brexit extension should last, but suggested it was likely to be longer than the three-month delay proposed by Mrs May.
“We will discuss what kind of extension we want to give the UK. It is possible that this will be a longer one than the prime minister asked for,” Ms Merkel said. “I think the extension should be as short as possible but it should also give us a certain degree of calm so we don’t have to deal with this issue every two weeks.”
Any extension, she said, would also require certain commitments from the UK side. “We also have our own expectations, above all that the European institutions can continue to function without friction,” Mr Merkel said. In addition, the UK would have to hold European elections and would have to show “readiness to take part constructively in decision-making”.
The chancellor closed her Brexit remarks with an appeal to consider the long-term impact of Brexit — and the European response to it: “This is a historic moment: for the first time a country is leaving the EU. How will we look back on this question five or ten years from now? I think it is only right that the 27 member states — in a united manner — take into consideration the wishes of the UK.”.