Minister of State Michael Roth on Brexit Negotiations: High Time for an Agreement!

Dear UK Government,
Dear UK Friends,

Some time ago, a majority of you decided in a referendum to leave the European Union. This is a great loss, a painful divorce that we did not want. It has tied up a tremendous amount of resources and manpower on all sides. But much though we regret the separation, we have accepted your choice. The United Kingdom is leaving the EU – but it is not leaving Europe. There is no question for us: We want relations between us to be as close as can possibly be contrived. And we must ensure that the close bonds that exist between so many people are maintained. Those bonds are a precious treasure which absolutely must be protected. To make a clean, fair break and then remain friends – that must be our common goal at this point.

We want to reach a deal that makes sense for both sides, that strikes a fair balance between rights and responsibilities, and that will enable us to maintain a close partnership in the future. We are determined to bring the negotiations to a positive outcome. We will therefore – to use the words of the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier – remain calm and respectful, realistic and firm, and continue to speak with one EU voice. Germany, currently holding the presidency of the Council of the EU, will of course do everything it can to give our negotiating team the best possible support.

With our counterparts in London, we now need to work with urgency to find a sensible solution. Let’s all get behind your motto: keep calm and carry on.

We also need trust – on both sides. Regrettably, dear UK Government, that trust has suffered a lot recently. The UK internal market bill would massively violate key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement – an international treaty, mind you – was negotiated and signed only nine months ago. And now you are calling it into question again?

The EU cannot and will not accept this approach. It is casting a dark shadow over the ongoing negotiations. Apart from anything else, what are our friends in Ireland supposed to think, after we made jointly agreed, special arrangements for the border on the island of Ireland with the intention of preserving peace in Northern Ireland? To recklessly jeopardize that historic achievement would send a disastrous message.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has made our expectations very clear: The United Kingdom must fully implement the Withdrawal Agreement. Agreements must be kept, pacta sunt servanda – that is probably the most important principle of international law. With readiness to compromise from both sides, with mutual trust and good will, a fair deal is still possible. But it is not helpful to play games. The kind of deal we are after has no winners and losers. What we need now is that much-vaunted British pragmatism of which we were always a little envious. We have made progress towards consensus on many points. On others, however, we still have some way to go. It is really high time we reached agreement!

Winston Churchill was right when he said: “You must look at facts, because they look at you”. And the facts speak for themselves: Whether it’s the coronavirus pandemic or the climate crisis, no country can shoulder the global tests we are facing on its own. Particularly at a time when our system is in brutal competition with authoritarianism and the post-coronavirus world looks set to become even more uncomfortable, we need each other as reliable and trustworthy partners more than ever. Close coordination and cooperation in our worldwide efforts for human rights, the rule of law, freedom and peace are therefore in all of our interests. But it does take two to tango. Staying in one place or even dancing off in opposite directions is a waste of valuable time and resources that we urgently need for the numerous common challenges with which we are confronted.

We have always made it clear that guarantees of fair competition are an indispensable condition for the successful conclusion of the negotiations. Where the EU is concerned, there will be no backhanded compromises on internal-market matters or on social and environmental standards. We strictly reject rules that would enable dumping. We owe that both to our people and to our economy. It would be a huge disappointment if we did not in the end manage to wrap up a joint agreement. Nonetheless, the European Union and its 27 member states are well prepared for a “no deal 2.0”.

On the plus side, the EU has learned a lot about itself in the course of the divorce proceedings – and about the UK’s parliamentary system, the rich tradition of your unwritten constitution and your passionate debating culture. We can assure you that we will continue to approach the remaining rounds of negotiation with the requisite cool heads and a good dose of optimism. Keep calm and carry on! You can count on us. Let’s get it done – but let’s do it together.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Roth,
Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office

Icon: Der Spiegel

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