‘We heard nothing concrete’: France, Germany say Theresa May’s Brexit speech failed to hit the mark

Not enough clarity on conditions of exit, rules for EU citizens living in Britain, the divorce bill it would pay, and how the land border with Ireland will work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 September, 2017, 5:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 4:52pm

Germany’s foreign minister said he was disappointed by British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit speech last week, adding to a downbeat reception from France ahead of the resumption of Brexit negotiations.

“We heard nothing concrete. It is time for the government of Great Britain to clearly state under what conditions it wants to leave the European Union,” Sigmar Gabriel said over the weekend in the northern German city of Wolfenbuettel.

In her speech in the Italian city of Florence on Friday, May set out a plan to retain full access to the EU’s single market for two years after Brexit, to try to reassure business and reset the tone of stalled negotiations with Brussels.

Soon afterwards, French President Emmanuel Macron said there was still not enough clarity on rules for European Union citizens living in Britain, the divorce bill it would pay, and how the land border with Ireland will work.

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“If these three points are not clarified, we will not be able to advance on the rest,” Macron warned.

France, Germany and other EU countries are insisting that Britain reach a deal with the bloc on the terms of its divorce before moving on to negotiate its future trading relationship.

On Saturday, Gabriel said the EU would not back away from its demand for Britain to pay some 60-100 billion euros (US$72-120 billion) for the divorce, adding that he continued to view Britons’ decision to leave the EU as a huge mistake.

“The Conservatives in Britain didn’t tell their citizens the truth about the consequences, and that is why they seem to be unable to present a clear strategy,” he said.

“We need clarity from the British government, and no conflict within the British government between the foreign minister and the prime minister. We’re running out of time.”

Britain is expected to formally leave the bloc in March 2019.

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Gabriel, a Social Democrat, said Britain refused to answer the EU’s key questions on issues such as its financial obligations under the EU budget, adding: “thank God, the EU is more unified than ever before.”

A leading member of Merkel’s conservatives also criticised May’s address.

“Theresa May’s speech underscores the will of London to move ahead with Brexit negotiations, but unfortunately it will not provide a new dynamism in the talks that is so urgently needed,” said Michael Stuebgen, European spokesman for the conservatives in the German parliament.

He said May had failed to address the issue of future borders, especially in Ireland.

“On this basis, we can hardly expect the needed progress in the Brexit negotiations before the European Council meeting in October,” he said.

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The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said last week that May’s speech showed “a willingness to move forward”, but that he wanted to hear a “precise negotiating position” when he meets his British counterpart on Monday.

Mario Ohoven, head of the German Association of Small and Medium-sized Businesses, said the British PM had wasted an opportunity for a new beginning in the Brexit negotiations.

“What German industry needs above all is planning and investment certainty,” he said in a statement. “Looming customs duties and bureaucratic trade obstacles are exactly the opposite of that, and are already resulting in significant damage to the investment climate.”