‘A Successful Brexit is of Fundamental Importance’: Berlin Business Concern over Brussels Hard Ball Tactics

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Germany’s Free Democratic Party, which is on course to help Chancellor Angela Merkel form a government after this year’s coming federal elections, has called for a “Brexit cabinet” to push for a generous and expansive UK-EU deal.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and his chief of staff Martin Selmayr are alleged to be seeking a Brexit deal which “punishes” Britain – but in the bloc’s member-states, cooler heads may be taking charge.

“We are hearing an uttering of concerns from German companies and trade unions about what could happen if there is a crash-Brexit and no deal in place. Criticism is growing,” said Michael Theurer MEP, the Free Democrats economy spokesman, in an interview with The Telegraph.

“People are only just starting to realise the full dimensions of this. There could be WTO duties, visas, all kinds of things. Small enterprises are very concerned. There are also a lot of German companies that rely on financing from the City of London, and they are very happy with the service they get now,” he added.

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Germany sold some 950,000 cars to Britain in 2016, which will be the EU’s single largest export market after Brexit.

Research indicates that trading with no deal would cost EU exporters as much as £12.9 billion, compared to just £5.2 billion for British exporters – who could be compensated through a combination of research grants, subsidies and general tax cuts funded through EU tariff revenues and savings on the EU budget without breaking WTO rules.

The classically liberal, pro-markets Free Democrats, who have been kingmakers in most German elections since the Second World War are therefore joining other EU leaders such as the Minister-President of Flanders and the Hungarian foreign minister in warning against an attempted “humiliation of Great Britain” by EU officials in order to make a political point, which could end up causing the struggling bloc great economic harm.

“[The United Kingdom] must continue to be a strong partner for the EU and within NATO,” said party leader Christian Lindner recently.

Theurer also told The Telegraph that, in contrast to the mainstream portrayal of a united EU and a Britain in disarray, that the German approach to Brexit has been chaotic: “Nobody is in charge. There is a lack of priorities,” he revealed.

Clarifying his own party’s position, the MEP said the Free Democrats were a “very British-minded party in favour of free trade and market economics. Our view is that we should get along with the British as well as possible. A successful Brexit is of fundamental importance to Germany”.

The intervention follows Mario Ohoven, head of the Mittelstand federation (BVMV) which represents Germany’s medium-sized enterprises, saying that his members account for half of Germany’s €86bn exports to Britain and 750,000 German jobs are linked to that UK trade, and pleading for a Brexit deal with minimal commercial barriers.

“That doesn’t mean Britain should be able to cherry pick but it is in everybody’s interest to avoid tariffs and trade barriers,” he said.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery

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