Merkel Warns: After Brexit U.K. will have Third-Country Status and Rights

Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel during news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 4. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel has warned British politicians that they should not expect the country to have rights equal to those member states have once it leaves the European Union.

Addressing German parliament ahead of a summit on Saturday where European leaders will formally adopt the Brexit guidelines, Merkel said British people hoping for a deal that will privilege the U.K. were harboring "illusions."

"Countries with a third-country status – and that's what Great Britain will be – cannot and will not have the same or even more rights as a member of the European Union. All 27 member states and the European institutions agree on this," she said.

"You may think that all this is self-evident. But I have to put this so clearly because I get the impression that some in Great Britain still have illusions about this, and that is a waste of time."

Sir Keir Starmer, the Brexit spokesman of Britain's Labour Party, suggested on Wednesday that the country could retain "reformed membership" of the single market and the customs union or a "bespoke" trading deal on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan, outlined in February, however envisages a 'hard Brexit' which involves leaving the single market and customs union.

Merkel said the priorities during the negotiation process should be deciding on the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. and Britons in the bloc and on Britain's financial obligations to the EU. She highlighted the importance of protecting the interests of some 100,000 Germans living in the U.K., saying her government was " also ready to make a fair offer to British citizens in Germany and the rest of Europe."

"They are an important part of our community and should remain so," she said.

She said it made "no sense" to negotiate a future UK-EU relationship until there was clarity about the terms of Britain's exit from the bloc.

"That means the sooner the British government is prepared to find constructive solutions, the sooner we can engage with their desire to already talk during the exit negotiations about the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union," Merkel told German politicians. "But first we need to know how Great Britain sees its future relationship with us."

Merkel's tough line on Brexit echoes warnings by German ministers before the referendum vote that Britons would have to face negative consequences if the country left the EU.

Minutes before the chancellor gave her speech, a BBC reporter asked British foreign minister Boris Johnson if the government could begin trade negotiations while the exit terms were still undefined, to which he responded: "We'll see."

In her speech, Merkel also stressed the importance of protecting the interests of some 100,000 Germans living in the U.K., adding that her government was " also ready to make a fair offer to British citizens in Germany and the rest of Europe."

Merkel Warns: After Brexit U.K. will have Third-Country Status and Rights | World