Theresa May insisted that Brexit would not mean “walking away from our European friends” as she carried out her first overseas visit as Prime Minister.
Mrs May, appearing alongside German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, said that the UK would remain an “outward-looking country” after the European Union referendum result.
She said: “I have been clear that Brexit means Brexit and the UK is going to make a success of it. But I also want to be clear here today, and across Europe in the weeks ahead, that we are not walking away from our European friends.
“Britain will remain an outward-looking country and Germany will remain a vital partner and a special friend for us.”
Mrs May confirmed she would not trigger the two-year Article 50 process of leaving the European Union before the end of the year.
Ms Merkel said the close bond between the UK and Germany would continue “irrespective” of the vote to leave the EU.
She indicated that although there could not be “formal or informal” negotiations on a Brexit deal before Article 50 is triggered, there would be discussions about the situation.
“Irrespective of the decision that the people in the UK have taken to leave the EU, we are linked by very close bonds of friendship, of partnership,” she said. “Our two countries have always acted on a basis of very clear and firm and similar convictions. We share the same values.”
Both nations were members of Nato, the G20 and G7 and “this will determine the relationship and also the spirit in which we will carry out the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU”, Ms Merkel said.
“Independently of this process of leaving the EU, we want to also continue to foster our relations on the economic field, in the political field, because this is, after all, in our mutual interest.”
She added: “It is now up to the British government to define how it wishes to see its future relationship with the EU and to then also pursue the following steps, particularly as regards the process leading up to invoking Article 50, and then will the proper negotiations start – the treaties of the EU are very clear on this.
“Today we will discuss the discussion as it presents itself now, and we will also discuss what is of relevance in connection with Article 50 without engaging in any formal or informal talks or negotiations.”
Ms Merkel said Germany would “stand up for our interests just as Britain does it for its own citizens”, but “in a spirit of friendship and on a basis of many shared convictions”.
Mrs May said that negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU “will take time, and it will require serious and detailed work”. She said: “I want to work with chancellor Merkel and my colleagues around the European Council in a constructive spirit to make this a sensible and orderly departure.
“All of us will need time to prepare for these negotiations and the United Kingdom will not invoke Article 50 until our objectives are clear.”