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Merkel says no 'cherry picking' for Britain in Brexit talks

BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union must consider limiting Britain’s access to its market if London fails to accept the bloc’s ‘four freedoms’ in Brexit negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during the yearly meeting of Germany's government workers union Deutscher Beamtenbund (dbb) in Cologne, Germany January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Merkel’s remarks add to pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been criticised for hinting at a “hard Brexit” - in which border controls are prioritised over market access - and had to clarify her comments.

The most controversial of the ‘freedoms’ in Britain is freedom of movement within the EU.

“One cannot lead these (Brexit) negotiations based in the form of ‘cherry picking’,” Merkel said in a speech before members of the German Civil Service Association in the city of Cologne.

“This would have fatal consequences for the remaining 27 EU states,” added Merkel. “Britain is, for sure, an important partner with whom one would want to have good relations even after an exit from the EU.”

But it was important, said the chancellor, “that on the other hand, we are clear that, for example, access to the single market is only possible under the condition of adherence to the four basic principles. Otherwise one has to negotiate limits (of access).”

May said on Monday that a clean break with the EU’s single market is not inevitable, clarifying comments that had pushed down the pound on the possibility of a hard Brexit.

She had said during an interview at the weekend that Britain would not be able to keep “bits” of its membership of the bloc.

May has repeatedly said she will not reveal her strategy before triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty to start some of the most complicated negotiations since World War Two.

She has largely stuck to the script that she wants Britain to regain control over immigration, restore its sovereignty and also to get the best possible trading relations with the EU.

The single market emerged from the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European integration. This enshrines the EU’s “four freedoms” - of movement of goods, capital, people, and services.

Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber and Andreas Rinke; editing by Erik Kirschbaum/Ruth Pitchford