Speaking at a gathering of family-owned businesses in Berlin on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that Britain would have to get used to a more distant relationship with the European Union (EU) once it is no longer a member.
The comments appear to signal a toughening of Berlin's position ahead of a two-year Brexit negotiating process that is expected to start after Britain's elections next month.
Merkel compared the divorce with hammering out a free trade agreement backwards and said the EU would need to implement mechanisms to offset new rules in post-Brexit Britain that could potentially distort competition. The UK will also pay a "price" if it doesn't accept free movement of EU citizens, and "we will have to see how we balance that out," Merkel added. The movement of people between the UK and the EU is a central issue in Brexit talks.
In similar remarks earlier this week, Merkel said the EU would not act out of "malice," but might respond to changes in Britain by thinking "about what obstacle we create from the European side to compensate for that."
Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the exit process in March after nearly 52 percent voters supported last June's referendum to leave the 28-member EU. Britain has repeatedly stated that it hopes to maintain a close relationship with the bloc in the future.
Merkel added that the EU would "of course, always think of the future relationship of the 48 or 49 percent who didn't back Brexit," without specifying how.
Last month Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said he backed a "hard Brexit" negotiating stance. He warned that there would be "no free lunch" for the UK, adding that Britons should not expect to gain any special advantages that other EU member countries do not have.
nm/rt (AP, Reuters)