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Angela Merkel made the ominous warning in 2017 as the EU and UK prepared for withdrawal negotiations. Some in Europe feared that Brexit could spark the end of the bloc, and while the German Chancellor maintained faith – she warned that Brussels would have to change tack, and that Brexit needed to be a “wake-up call”. Merkel said: “The motto is that we are united in diversity. “We talked at some length of this so-called Europe of different speeds. “Some people voiced concerns that this might mean that there are different classes of Europeans, first- and second-class citizens as it were. I said such a difference of European unity is laid down in the treaties. It is a lived reality now.”
Mrs Merkel added that having a strong feeling of identity with one’s own country did not preclude continued membership of the EU.
She said: “Feeling that you belong to a certain nation but at the same time standing up for what Europe stands for, European values, are not contradictions.
“We always say in Germany that these are two sides of the same coin.”
Jean Claude Juncker – then the President of the European Commission – was in a more confident mood as he claimed the UK would rejoin the bloc before long.
He said: “I don’t like Brexit. I would like to be in the same boat as the British. The day will come when the British re-enter the boat. I hope.”
A senior aide later said the option of Britain returning to the EU “will always be open” and outlined various ways in which it could happen.
They added: “There are different ways you can join. You can be a full member, you can be a partner, you can be related to us in the customs union, or through a trade agreement.”
Mr Juncker also remained defiant that Brexit would not be the beginning of the end of the bloc, despite its devastating ramifications.
He added: “Brexit is not the end of the European Union, not the end of all our developments, nor the end of our continental ambitions.
“I had the impression from colleagues I talked to in the room, that quite the contrary, the Brexit issue is encouraging the others to continue.
“Unfortunately, not the British. I have seen in more or less all member states that the approval of European integration is having a larger adherence of the population.”
Feeling between the UK and the EU hasn’t improved during Brexit trade talks.
The EU’s chief executive said “significant divergences” persisted in its talks with Boris Johnson’s negotiating team last week.
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In a statement, an EU spokesperson said: “We are working hard to overcome the significant divergences that remain between us.
“We are working towards an agreement.”
Brexit negotiations have stalled in recent months over two key issues – fisheries and regulatory alignment.
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