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LONDON (AP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her final visit to Britain on Friday before she steps down later this year, laying out her hope that relations between two of Europe’s major powers can be reset following years of Brexit-related tensions.
In her 22nd visit to the UK since she became chancellor 16 years ago, Ms. Merkel sought to downplay the tensions that clearly arose after British voters decided in June 2016 to leave the European Union. She even expressed interest in a new treaty between the two countries to cement the new relationship.
“It is, now that Britain has left the European Union, a good opportunity to open a new chapter in our relationship,” she told a joint press conference alongside her host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after they dined on English asparagus and Oxfordshire beef during a working lunch at his Chequers country retreat.
“We would be very happy on the German side to work together on a friendship treaty or a cooperation treaty, which would reflect the whole breadth of relations,” she said before heading off to meet with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
Ms. Merkel also addressed Mr. Johnson’s Cabinet via video call, the first foreign leader to do so since U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1997. Both leaders agreed during their discussions that their respective cabinets would meet annually, the first arrangement of its kind for the UK.
Ms. Merkel said she was optimistic that “pragmatic” solutions can be found to post-Brexit trading arrangements as they relate to Northern Ireland, the UK’s sole land border with the EU and its tariff-free single market and customs union.
The Northern Ireland protocol has seen customs and border checks imposed on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland. That has angered Northern Ireland’s unionist community, and many members of Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party, who say the checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
During the talks between leaders, Ms. Merkel said double-jabbed Britons should be able to travel to Germany without quarantine in the “foreseeable future.”
Mr. Johnson announced the creation of a new academic medal in honor of Ms. Merkel, a scientist by training. An award of 10,000 pound ($13,800) will be given each year from 2022 to a British or German woman in science. It is named after Caroline Herschel, a German-born British astrophysicist who was a pioneer in the field.