- Chancellor Merkel visited Britain for the 22nd time since taking office in 2005
- On the first visit, her opposite number was Tony Blair
- COVID and Brexit were hot topics in talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson
- Merkel spoke to the UK Cabinet, the first global leader to do so since Bill Clinton in 1997
- The German leader will step down after the general election in September
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Merkel meets the Queen at Windsor Castle
Finally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle in the west of London.
"I'm delighted to be here," said Merkel when she was introduced to the British monarch, reviving memories of their moments at the G7 conference in Cornwall which she called the highlight of that trip.
The Queen said that it was "very nice" to see the outgoing leader once again.
The monarch even invited photographers to "take a picture and make history" as the European political giant bowed out of her UK visit in style.
Disagreements over sausages and football
While the talks seemed to go smoothly, Boris Johnson raised the problem of getting chilled meats like sausages into Northern Ireland.
According to European Union common market rules, importing chilled meats from third countries is not allowed. Britain is considered a third country by the EU since Brexit.
Although the grace period for sending British meat to Northern Ireland was this week extended until September, Johnson wants a more long-term solution.
"Imagine if Bratwurst could not be moved from Dortmund to Duesseldorf because of the jurisdiction of an international court," the UK Prime Minister said. ″You'd think it was absolutely extraordinary. So we have to sort it out.
"I'm sure as Angela says, with goodwill and with patience we can sort it out," he added.
On a more humorous note, Merkel remarked she was "a little bit sad" after England′s 2-0 beating of Germany in the Euro 2020 competition last Tuesday.
"I'm obviously grateful to you for breaking with that tradition, just for once," Johnson said of the habitual losses to Germany in past soccer matches.
Johnson launches award in honor of Merkel
The UK Prime Minister said he was creating a new academic medal in honor of his German counterpart.
The £10,000 ($13,800) award will be named after German-born British scientist Caroline Herschel, who broke new ground in astrophysics.
It would be given to any German or British woman who achieves excellence in science from 2022.
Merkel welcomes new era in relations
In a press conference after talks, Merkel thanked her British hosts for the "gracious hospitality" extended on her first bilateral visit abroad since the pandemic.
"Now that Britain has left the European Union it's a good opportunity to open a new chapter in our relationship, to find very practical formats where we can have very close contact," she said.
"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 added.
However, Angela Merkel has said she will taking a "step by step" approach to the new relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit.
The German leader was also non-committal when asked if UK prime ministers could be invited to European Union summits as an attempt to repair ties in the post-Brexit era.
"We will see," said Merkel, who is in her last few months as chancellor of Germany.
No change on Euro 2020 crowd numbers
Prime Minister Johnson has said he doesn't plan to order a reduction in crowds numbers at the remaining Euro 2000 tournament soccer matches at London's Wembley Stadium.
Crowd capacity at Wembley Stadium is to be increased to more than 60,000 fans for the semifinals.
Merkel said she was "worried and skeptical" about high attendance of matches.
"Of course, we'll follow the scientific guidance and the advice if we receive any such suggestion," Johnson said after Chancellor Merkel said she was worried about UEFA's decision to let more people into stadiums.
"At the moment...the position is very clear in the UK, which is that we have certain events which we can put on in a very careful and controlled manner with testing of everybody who goes there."
Merkel confident of easier travel
Chancellor Merkel has said she expects travel between Germany and the United Kingdom to be made easier soon.
"I assume that in the foreseeable future, those who have been vaccinated twice will be able to travel again without having to go into quarantine," Merkel told the press conference that followed her talks with Johnson.
Germany currently requires travelers from the UK to undergo a 14-day quarantine period, with the more contagious Delta variant of COVID prevalent in Britain.
Johnson urges inclusion of India-made vaccine
Prime Minister Johnson said he saw no reason why people who received an India-made version AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine should be left out of inoculation passport schemes.
Some 5 million people in Britain are thought to have had the Covishield vaccine — not initially recognized by the EU— approved by British regulator the MHRA and made by Serum Institute in India.
"I see no reason at all why the MHRA-approved vaccines should not be recognized as part of the vaccine passports and I'm very confident that that will not prove to be a problem," Johnson said.
Solutions needed on Northern Ireland
Chancellor Merkel said she and Johnson had discussed the Northern Ireland Protocol and that pragmatic solutions were needed.
She said it was important to find answers that both protected the EU's Single Market and were acceptable to people in the province.
For his part, Prime Minister Johnson said there remained a lot of issues to resolve with regard to Northern Ireland.
Checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under the protocol, part of the Brexit trade deal agreed in December, have proven a particular point of contention between London and the EU.
Travel restrictions high on agenda
UK PM Johnson is expected to argue that British citizens should be allowed to travel abroad more widely this year.
While the UK is looking to ease quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated people traveling from abroad, some European states such as Germany have imposed quarantine requirements on those arriving from Britain.
Merkel has been pressing other EU leaders to impose stringent quarantine requirements on those arrivals, regardless of their vaccination status. The chancellor says the measure is necessary to control the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, which is now the dominant type of COVID-19 in Britain.
Asparagus tart and beef on the menu
The two heads of government are scheduled to have lunch together.
According to the British hosts, starters will be a tart with English asparagus, peas, and feta cheese, served with a young salad.
The main course will be Oxfordshire fillet of beef, with an egg custard pudding tartlet and blackberry ice cream for dessert.
Merkel and Johnson appear for cameras at Chequers
The two leaders met for the cameras at the country residence of the UK prime minister, Chequers, ahead of bilateral talks between the two.
Johnson greeted Merkel briefly after her arrival with an elbow greeting before the pair entered the 16th-century manor house.
The prime minister commented that Germany and Britain were bound by an "unshakeable friendship" and "shared views" on many political issues.
Merkel addressed the British Cabinet, becoming the first foreign leader to do so since US President Bill Clinton in 1997. Unlike Bill Clinton, however, Merkel did it via video call from the Chequers building.
She agreed with Boris Johnson that German and British cabinets would meet each other annually from now on.
German Greens warn Merkel over bilateral ties
Ahead of the meeting, the German Green party's European spokesperson Franziska Brantner has warned against Germany going it alone in the post-Brexit relationship with London. "We need close and good relations with the UK on a new basis. But bilateral agreements and talks must not become divisive in Europe," Brantner told the AFP news agency.
Brantner criticized Germany and Britain's bilateral declaration of intent on security and foreign policy as premature.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his British counterpart Dominic Raab signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday on closer German-British exchanges on foreign and security policy issues.
"The German government should have waited with its declaration of intent until it had negotiated with the entire EU," Brantner said.
Johnson tweets praise ahead of Merkel arrival
The UK prime minister has tweeted ahead of Merkel's arrival, saying he was "looking forward" to the visit.
He also repeated his comments a day earlier about "re-energized and re-invigorated" UK-German relations.
What's on the agenda?
First up is a visit to Chequers, the country retreat of British prime ministers, for a midday meeting with Johnson.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be high on the agenda, with German authorities alarmed at the rapid spread of the delta variant of the virus in Britain.
It's expected that Johnson will press Merkel for an easing of quarantine restrictions on vaccinated travelers from the UK to Germany.
Johnson and Merkel are also expected to discuss Britain's post-Brexit relationship with the European Union – a topic that overshadowed discussions at the G7.
The leaders were due to discuss initiatives including an annual joint meeting of the British and German cabinets, as well as cultural and youth exchange schemes.
There will also be a rare honor, as Merkel is slated to be the first foreign leader in a quarter of a century to address the UK Cabinet.
After a press conference, the chancellor is set to have lunch with Prime Minister Johnson.
That will be followed by a helicopter trip to Windsor Castle near London, where Merkel is scheduled for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.
Ahead of the visit
In advance of the trip, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the impact that Merkel has had on bilateral relations.
"Over the 16 years of Chancellor Merkel's tenure, the UK-Germany relationship has been re-energized and re-invigorated for a new era," he said in a statement.
The two leaders last met at the G7 summit in June in the English county of Cornwall, where they also held a bilateral meeting.
At the talks, Merkel urged Johnson to observe the legal terms of the Brexit agreement regarding trade to the UK province of Northern Ireland.
jc, rc/rs (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)