The Two Female Leaders Who Have To Figure Out The Brexit : Parallels Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have a mammoth task ahead: overcoming their differences over how to handle Britain's departure from the EU.
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The Two Female Leaders Who Have To Figure Out The Brexit

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The Two Female Leaders Who Have To Figure Out The Brexit

The Two Female Leaders Who Have To Figure Out The Brexit

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ELISE HU, HOST:

Shortly after Theresa May was named Britain's new prime minister, German media wasted no time in hailing her as the British Merkel, as in Germany's Angela Merkel. But for all the two women's apparent similarities, when it comes to the U.K.'s exit from the European Union, the leaders of Germany and Britain have some major differences. Esme Nicholson reports.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: It seems that Angela Merkel and Theresa May have quite a bit in common. Both rose to power within their respective conservative parties to the surprise of their male colleagues, both are reputed to be tough yet pragmatic negotiators who stay clear of political gossip, and commentators attribute Merkel and May's disciplined work ethic to the fact that their fathers were both pastors. But there's one similarity the media has really milked, the fact that they are women, prompting countless trivial analyses of their ostensible soft power, love of cooking and sartorial decisions.

ANJA MAIER: (Through interpreter) The obsession with her shoes or that she has a nice husband who is prepared to fade into the background or, like Merkel, she has no children. These things are not relevant. They're simply condescending.

NICHOLSON: Anja Maier is parliamentary correspondent for the German daily Die Tageszeitung.

MAIER: (Through interpreter) I think there's a deep-rooted fear of female leaders who are still a rarity in this world and somewhat novel, and this fear spawns disparaging remarks.

NICHOLSON: But as Theresa May met Angela Merkel in Berlin, the media focus switched to their differences and how these will affect the messy business of implementing Brexit. Alan Crawford, co-author of a biography on Merkel, foresees friction between the two leaders.

ALAN CRAWFORD: Their fundamental views are polar opposites in that the chancellor is a very committed European, and I certainly detect that there's a lack of understanding as to what Britain is doing. At the same time, Merkel has said that they have to accept the fact that Britain has voted this way and so she'll deal with it. But that's where the tension will start to appear, I think.

NICHOLSON: At their joint news conference last Wednesday, Theresa May talked of controlling immigration from the EU into the U.K., but Angela Merkel dodged the issue by insisting Britain must invoke Article 50, the official trigger to start divorce proceedings, before official negotiations can begin.

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ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) We will wait to hear what Britain wants. Then we'll issue a response. Right now, there's no point in 27 member states saying if they do this, we will do that. That will only destabilize Europe.

NICHOLSON: For Merkel and other EU member states, freedom of movement for EU citizens is sacrosanct. But it was clear that May was eager to strike a cordial tone with Merkel. She promised Brexit will not mean walking away from Europe and that Britain will remain outward-looking.

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THERESA MAY: I think what is very important is we have two women here who, if I may say so, I think, get on with the job and both want to deliver the best possible results for the people of the U.K. and the people of Germany.

NICHOLSON: Clearly receptive to May's plainspoken sentiments, Merkel responded by saying that she endorses them wholeheartedly. Merkel also signaled that she supports May's intention not to trigger Article 50 before 2017. Having bought more time, both leaders conveniently have the summer recess to ponder how their new relationship will develop. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.

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