Germany hopes Britain's early election leads to more Brexit clarity

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he hoped early elections called by Britain's prime minister would bring more "clarity and accountability" in its negotiations to leave the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May called on Tuesday for an early election on June 8, saying she needed to strengthen her hand in divorce talks with the EU by shoring up support for her Brexit plan.

"Accountability and reliability are more important than ever after the Brexit vote of the Britons," Gabriel told the Funke Mediengruppe newspaper chain in an interview, noting that periods of uncertainty were not helpful for EU-British ties.

"Hopefully the new elections announced today ... can lead to more clarity and accountability in the negotiations with the European Union," said Gabriel, a member of the Social Democrats, junior members in the ruling centre-right coalition.

Norbert Roettgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and head of the foreign affairs committee, said May's surprise decision marked a 180-degree turn from her previous statements and reflected Britain's "increasing consciousness of its own weakness".

"May's desire for new elections shows that the British government is not prepared for Brexit. It also reflects the insight that negotiations will be very difficult and their outcome is not certain," Roettgen told the RND newspaper group.

He said that the election would reduce the chances of any reversal of Britain's decision to leave the EU.

"Hopes for an exit from Brexit are completely unfounded," he told the newspaper group. "For the first time the prime minister is programmatically committing the Tories to Brexit."

Britain joins a list of western European countries scheduled to hold elections this year. France's two-stage presidential election on April 23 and May 7 and Germany's Sept. 24 general election both could reshape the political landscape around the two years of Brexit talks, expected to start sometime in June.

(This story corrects German election date to Sept. 24 in final paragraph)

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Michelle Martin/Mark Heinrich)

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