Brexit is not at top of Germany's agenda, ambassador says

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Brexit is not at the "top of the agenda" for Germany, the country's ambassador to the UK has confirmed in a further indication the European Union is looking to a future without the UK.

But Peter Ammon said the UK's decision to leave the EU would not mean a "divorce" from Germany and the two countries would maintain close links.

His comments came after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron held a symbolic joint press conference at last week's EU summit in an effort to show they were looking to the future rather than focusing on the UK's decision to leave.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, presenter Nick Robinson said people saw the two leaders together and thought: "The truth is that's the future of Europe and Brexit is not terribly important to them, is it?"

Mr Ammon said: "Unfortunately that is true. If you talk to people in Germany they would say that Brexit is not the top of the agenda, yes."

The diplomat said he was "unnerved" about the tone of the Brexit debate but said both sides "have to come together" to address the issue of citizens' rights.

"I am unnerved about this debate about a divorce. This is as if the two countries would be separated forever and not talk to each other after Brexit," he said.

"I think this overlooks the fact that we have so much in common. Even after Brexit we will, of course, trade, we will have exchange of students, of culture, of the arts.

"We share the same values in a very difficult and aggressive world around us, so we will not be separated."

Theresa May's proposals for protecting the rights of the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK - and British expatriates on the continent - have received a lukewarm response in Brussels and Mrs Merkel said the initial presentation of the plan at last week's summit did not represent a "breakthrough".

Mr Ammon said: "We are at the beginning of negotiations. I have never seen a negotiation starting with total agreement, where we could simply go home and probably you have made the wrong offer if that was the case.

"I think both sides have to come together."

There was a "strong will" to do that, he added.

The ambassador said it was "worrying" that the number of people learning German had fallen in recent years and said Britons should be more willing to learn another language.

"On the whole I find the readiness to learn a foreign language here is declining in this country and the German figures are really mind-boggling.

"In the last 10 years we have seen a reduction of 50% of students learning German.

"I can understand that it is tempting to rely on your lingua franca, English is the language of the world."

He quoted author John Le Carre who said "a decision to learn a foreign language is an act of friendship", adding: "That's what we need."