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Labour anger over Merkel visit snub

Labour has complained to the Foreign Office over its failure to warn Ed Miliband in advance of this week's visit to London by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mrs Merkel will meet David Cameron in Downing Street tomorrow for talks which will include discussions on the Prime Minister's plans to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU after May's general election.

She will also join the PM to visit the British Museum's current exhibition on the history of her country.

But there will be no meeting with the leader of the opposition, whose office was irritated to learn of the visit from the media rather than the Foreign Office.

A Labour spokesman said: "The Foreign Office usually contacts the leader of the opposition's office in advance of visits from heads of government and state. Unfortunately on this occasion they failed to do so.

"Ed Miliband recently raised Labour's agenda for European reform with Chancellor Merkel in a private meeting when she came to Britain to address Parliament, and has done so on other occasions in meetings with the German foreign minister and other party leaders.

"We will let Chancellor Merkel explain to David Cameron how damaging it is for Britain to be dragged closer to the EU exit door by the Conservatives' actions."

Mrs Merkel's trip forms part of a series of visits to foreign capitals in preparation for the G7 summit which she is hosting in Bavaria in June. But Downing Street confirmed that Mr Cameron's proposals for EU reform will also be under discussion.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage raised doubts about the chancellor's willingness to go along with the Prime Minister's plans for changes to restrict EU migrants' access to welfare benefits in the UK, at a time of heightened tension over immigration in Germany, which has seen protests against "Islamisation" in cities across the country.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman played down reports that the European Commission is raising objections to a key plank of Mr Cameron's renegotiation proposals, which would require EU jobseekers to have an offer of work before coming to the UK.

The Commission itself has declined to comment on the Guardian report, but the PM's spokesman pointed out that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has previously made clear he is happy to discuss Mr Cameron's proposals.

Mr Farage said that it was "ridiculous" to expect the Commission to make an exception for Britain on rules guaranteeing freedom of movement for EU workers. And he said Mrs Merkel was unlikely to be willing to help the PM get his way.

"Germany is facing its own problems at the moment and would not want Britain to start turning away EU jobseekers, potentially redirecting them to seek work there," said the Ukip leader.

"If Chancellor Merkel agreed that the UK can close the door on EU jobseekers she would also have to recognise that a great many that were Britain-bound would instead seek work in Germany as the continent's biggest economy, and that is a risk she is likely to be unwilling to take."

Mr Farage added: "F ree movement in the EU has always meant equal access to work, free education, free healthcare and UK benefits. To pretend that Cameron can get special exceptions for Britain through treaty change is quite ridiculous. There is no conceivable way that the Commission - nor the leaders of other large member states such as Germany - would accept Britain getting special treatment and it's been made abundantly clear time and again that the Commission are in no way going to alter the terms of free movement as one of the fundamental principles of the EU's single market."

Labour's Europe spokesman Pat McFadden said: "Chancellor Merkel is publicly supportive of Britain's place in Europe, but on her visit to London she will no doubt reiterate to David Cameron that Germany is not willing to bail him out politically at any cost.

"Unlike David Cameron, Chancellor Merkel will not be driven by the need to pander to the eurosceptics inside today's Conservative Party. Even once her visit is over, the gap between what David Cameron's eurosceptic backbenchers are demanding and what European allies such as Germany will accept, remains unbridgeable.

"Europe does need to change, but the tragedy for Britain is that since being elected, David Cameron has spent more time negotiating with his backbenchers than with other EU leaders."

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said that Mr Cameron must put business issues at the heart of his talks with Mrs Merkel.

"Our message to Mrs Merkel and our EU partners is that British firms are pragmatic," said Mr Longworth.

"They look to eurozone markets for a significant proportion of their export sales, but also believe their interests would be best served if the UK had clear safeguards to avoid becoming intertwined with the eurozone's ever more integrated decision-making.

"That is why British companies favour remaining in the EU, but with no further integration and a real power shift away from Brussels toward Westminster."

The Foreign Office said that other than for state visits, it only informed Opposition leaders if the visiting leader had specifically requested a meeting.

Mrs Merkel is understood not to have asked to meet Mr Miliband.

An FCO spokesman said: " We always inform the Leader of the Opposition on formal state visits.

"For other visits by senior foreign leaders, like Chancellor Merkel's this week, we inform the Leader of the Opposition in those cases where the visitor has asked to meet the Leader of the Opposition."

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