Berlin Hardens Its Stance on Brexit

  • Apr 17, 2019 BST
  • Team Kalkine
Berlin Hardens Its Stance on Brexit

Heiko Maas, Germany's foreign minister, has warned the British government that if the UK does not make progress on agreeing to a Brexit deal, there will be no Brexit extension beyond October 31. This was the strongest signal as Germany's patience with the UK's deadlocked political system is starting to wear out and indicates that Germany will be less compromising should the UK once again look to buy further time. In an interview, he said that the British government would have to make up its mind by the latest deadline as it "cannot drag out Brexit for a decade." 

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had to fight hard against the French President, Emmanuel Macron, to secure a six-month Brexit delay at last week's European summit. Mr Macron was against giving the UK a long pause and had insisted the country should be given at most until the end of June to secure an orderly withdrawal from the bloc. Mr Maas's comments suggest that Germany will adopt a harder stance should the UK asks for another extension without making any meaningful progress and would side with the French. Any further appeal for a delay would be interpreted as a plea to remain in the EU after all.

It must be noted that at the recent summit, the leaders of the two biggest economies of continental Europe had a very divergent view on tackling the Brexit issue. Germany had a softer stance and had insisted that the EU should avoid "putting pressure" on Britain when it came to Brexit and said it was essential to give space to the country to make their own choice. In contrast, Emmanuel Macron was staunchly opposed to a long extension of the Brexit deadline. Moreover, he defended his standpoint throughout the meeting, highlighting the profound difference of approach between Germany and France on Brexit. The argument exposed cracks in the EU's Franco-German relations, which were already strained by tensions over eurozone reform, arms exports and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Angela Merkel has till now taken a long-term approach to the issue and strongly seeks to avoid a "no-deal" Brexit, which she remarks would be as damaging for Europe's economy as for the UK's. During the summit, she urged them to imagine how the decision they took would be judged by history and feels strongly that Europe has a historic responsibility when it comes to Brexit. However, recent hardening of stance can spell troubles for politically ravaged UK.

Heiko Maas also said that the European Union leaders' decision to extend the deadline by six months should not be misinterpreted as softening of stance regarding re-negotiations and no new leeway for negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement would be offered. He praised that unity showed by the remaining 27 European Union members to reach the decision that averted a disorderly Brexit for the time being.

The UK authorities should now realise that, after two extensions already being granted, there is no room to kick the can down the road anymore. The British parliament will either have to ratify the Brexit deal before the deadline or offer a 'softer' Brexit if a 'no deal' Brexit is to be avoided. This should put a renewed pressure on Theresa May's government to push the deal through the parliament or face the worst crisis of modern history.

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