Europe

Merkel visits UK: COVID travel and post-Brexit ties overshadow German Chancellor’s trip

Coronavirus travel restrictions and post-Brexit tensions are certain to be raised during Angela Merkel”s last official visit to the UK on Friday before she cedes power in September’s elections.

Although they are both conservatives and the trip is expected to be largely amicable, the German Chancellor’s views on the issues are at odds with those of her host Boris Johnson.

Despite the success of its vaccine rollout, with six out of 10 adults fully inoculated against COVID-19, in recent weeks the United Kingdom has been facing an onslaught of infections of the Delta variant, originally detected in India.

The German leader has called in vain for the EU’s 27 countries to impose quarantine on visitors from the UK to prevent the variant’s spread across the continent. In contrast, the British prime minister wants gradually to lift the current obligation to quarantine among fully vaccinated travellers when they return from most EU countries.

Earlier this week Germany’s interior and sports minister called on the British government and UEFA to cut the number of supporters allowed into Wembley for the remaining matches Euro 2020 is due to host at the stadium, due to the increasing spread of the Delta variant.

However, Germany’s health minister said on Thursday that the country could ease travel restrictions from countries like Portugal and Britain, as in any case Berlin expects the Delta variant to account for up to 80% of infections this month.

The UK reported another 28,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. The country has suffered more than 128,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Another point of divergence is the state of UK-EU relations in the aftermath of Brexit. London struck agreement with Brussels this week on an extension to the grace period for chilled meats sent from Britain to Northern Ireland.

But the overall dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements contained in the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the binding UK-EU divorce treaty, remain unresolved. EU rules continue to apply in the UK territory, to maintain an open border with the Irish Republic, an EU member.

Merkel has been less forthright in her criticism of the British stance than some other European leaders, calling for a “pragmatic solution” to differences over the Brexit deal. Johnson is likely to use her visit to press for greater flexibility from the EU.

Also on Friday Angela Merkel is due to meet Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle and receive a scientific prize created in her honour.

For her 22nd visit to the UK since she came to power in 2005, the German Chancellor will meet Boris Johnson at Chequers, the country residence of British prime ministers. She is scheduled to address the British cabinet by videolink, the first world leader to do so since US President Bill Clinton in 1997.

“The UK and Germany have a steadfast friendship and a shared outlook on many issues. Our scientists, innovators and industrialists work together every day to make the world a better place,” Johnson said in a statement released by Downing Street.

In recognition of her background as a scientist, the prime minister announced a new annual prize of £10,000 (€11,600) for a UK or Germany-based female scientist who has excelled in astrophysics. The medal will be named after Caroline Herschel, a German-born British pioneer in the field.

The two leaders are also expected to commit their two governments to hold joint annual meetings of the British and German cabinets.

The extent to which they’ll discuss Euro 2020 is unknown, in the aftermath of England’s 2-0 victory over Germany on Tuesday. Merkel is a football fan, whereas Johnson isn’t.


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