Merkel warns May against any rush to leave Europe
Britain is right to "wait a moment" before beginning the formal process of leaving the European Union, Angela Merkel has said, in a significant boost to Theresa May.
The British prime minister yesterday praised the German chancellor as a "vital partner and friend to the UK" during her first overseas trip since taking office.
At a joint press conference in Berlin, Mrs Merkel said Britain was entitled to "carefully consider" its position before invoking Article 50, which triggers formal exit talks.
The visit marks the start of Britain's discussions with European leaders about the terms of Brexit as Mrs May seeks to "forge strong and successful relationships".
Mrs Merkel's approach is in stark contrast with that of other European leaders, including François Hollande, the French president, who will today host Mrs May in Paris. Mr Hollande has insisted that Britain should begin exit talks as soon as possible to end uncertainty in the EU.
Mrs Merkel said: "No one wants things to be up in the air and I don't think the British citizens want that, nor do the European member states want that - we all have an interest in this matter being carefully prepared.
"It is completely understandable that only a few days after the referendum the Government will have to take a moment first to try to seek to identify its interests and also have to talk about the other parts of Great Britain. It is to our advantage to have the UK define its negotiating stance in great detail and clarity and to also clearly outline how it sees its future relationship with the EU - these have to be parallel processes."
The chancellor insisted, however, that she will not enter negotiations about Brexit until Article 50 has been invoked.
"I promise you from the German side we will certainly stand up for our interests - just as Britain does for its own citizens. But we will do this in a spirit of friendship."
Mrs May, who initially spoke in German, said: "We will be taking some time before we trigger that renegotiation. We have two women who have got on and who get on with the job and want to deliver the best results for the people of the UK and the people of Germany."
Mrs May gave Mrs Merkel, whose birthday was on Sunday, two walking books reflecting their "shared interest in hiking", each with a personal hand-written message. The two books were 'Coast to Coast with Wainwright' and 'Great Mountain Days in Snowdonia', Downing Street said.
Mrs May yesterday relinquished Britain's Presidency of the European Union in 2017 so she can focus on Brexit negotiations.
She also rejected criticism of Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary, saying: "I have appointed a team of ministers who will take forward the position of the British Government."
Mrs Merkel also praised Mr Johnson, saying that she was confident he will work "in good cooperation with all of the other 27 foreign ministers".