Angela Merkel has admitted the UK will be missed when it leaves the EU as she struck a conciliatory tone on a future relationship over security.
The German chancellor acknowledged the bloc would be “losing something” with the UK’s departure, but stressed she would do everything in her power to ensure the close relationship endured and “that we continue to act as partners in the world”.
Mrs Merkel’s conciliatory remarks come in stark contrast to the hard line being taken by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier on the post-Brexit security relationship with Brussels.
The German leader’s comments will be seen as a strong signal that a deal can be reached with the UK in this critical area.
It comes after the UK accused the European Commission of putting “obstacles” in the way of measures to allow law enforcement agencies to continue co-operating after Brexit.
Theresa May warned EU leaders at a recent summit in Brussels that unless there was flexibility in the negotiations then their citizens would be less safe.
Speaking during her weekly video podcast, Mrs Merkel said Britain leaving the EU represented a “major change”, but said remaining members could turn “this crisis into an opportunity” and make the bloc stronger.
She added: “Yes, an economically important and strong country is leaving the European Union and we are losing something. Britain has always been strong economically. Britain is a country that focuses on science, research and innovation. I therefore hope that partnership and future cooperation will remain.”
Pointing to the UK’s commitment to free trade, she said: “We’ll miss that too.”
Acknowledging that relations “will be less close in the future”, Mrs Merkel did not know what shape they would take as that “also depends on what the UK has in mind”.
However, she said: “One thing remains clear: we will continue to work very closely together in foreign, security and defence policy.”
Highlighting common foreign policy positions such as the reaction to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and stance on the Iran nuclear agreement, Mrs Merkel added: “And we need each other as security partners for the protection of external borders and also for many missions in Africa.
“And so I will rely on and do everything in my power to ensure that our cooperation in foreign and security policy in particular remains very close and that we continue to act as partners in the world.”
Mrs May used last week’s summit in Brussels to urge EU leaders to consider “the safety of your citizens and mine” and change the bloc’s negotiating stance in order to allow UK involvement in key law enforcement initiatives.
The prime minister’s focus on the security partnership came against a backdrop of EU frustration about the lack of progress in the divorce talks and her own failure to give details of the future trading relationship she wants with the bloc.
Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel has secured a deal with 14 other EU countries that will see them take back asylum seekers as part of her effort to end a standoff with her coalition partners that threatened to bring down her Berlin government.
Those signalling their readiness to take back migrants include some of those most critical of her open-door refugee policy, such as Hungary.