Brexiter hopes that Merkel will ride to rescue to be dashed

by Quentin Peel | 08.09.2017

For many of the most fervent Brexiters, an infrequently-stated but constant cause of the hostility they felt towards the EU was fear of German domination. It is therefore ironic that some are now putting their money on Angela Merkel to rescue the Brexit negotiations from the chaos to which they seem to be heading. “I am just hoping she will listen to the voice of German business, think of German jobs, and knock heads together with Juncker and Barnier,” said Nigel Farage, erstwhile leader of Ukip, on his LBC radio programme last week. “If there is any hope of saving the Brexit talks, it lies with her.”

It is not just the hard-line Leavers who are praying for a Merkel Miracle after the German elections on September 24, to prevent a collapse of the talks. Many “soft” Brexiters also believe the chancellor in Berlin can deliver a deal that will limit the self-inflicted damage to the UK. They are living in a parallel universe, failing to pay attention to the realities of German politics.

For a start, Brexit has barely figured in the German election campaign. In a 97-minute television debate between Merkel and Martin Schulz, her principal rival from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), it was not mentioned once. The British decision is deeply regretted, but preserving the EU’s integrity is far more important for all the mainstream parties than softening the blow for the Brits.

At this stage, only three coalitions look mathematically possible: an alliance of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union) with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP); a three-way coalition of CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens; or a continuation of the current grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD. The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany is the one party guaranteed not to be part of any post-election coalition, because it is suspected of harbouring far-right tendencies.

Anybody hoping for an instant intervention by Merkel after the election, to accelerate the process towards talks on a final trade deal, is ignoring the fact that it normally takes two or three months for a German coalition government to be agreed. Even after that, it is hard to see how a new coalition would take a very different stance from the present Merkel government, which has insisted its priorities are to preserve the single market’s integrity, maintain EU unity, and reject any “cherry-picking” of special deals for special sectors such as the City of London.

Brexiters are pinning their hopes on lobbying by German business for a good trade deal to protect their exports and the pro-business FDP gaining a place in the next German government. Yet both support the current policy stance.

Dieter Kempf, the new chief executive of the BDI – the German manufacturers’ association – has blamed the UK government for slow progress in the talks, and warned that the British proposals for a bespoke customs agreement are hopelessly bureaucratic. His organisation is alarmed at the lack of realism in the UK approach.

As for the FDP, Christian Lindner, the 38-year-old telegenic leader who has brought the party back from political oblivion, told The Economist last week that he backed Merkel’s line. In particular, he said the idea that the UK might keep the advantages of the single market, while rejecting freedom of movement, was “an illusion”. He also described the promises made by Brexiters such as David Davis, Boris Johnson and Farage as “crude demagogy.”

It is high time the Brexit brigade realised that the EU they reject is precisely the EU that all but a small minority of the German electorate and the German business community are determined to preserve.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

3 Responses to “Brexiter hopes that Merkel will ride to rescue to be dashed”

  • The way in which the brexit-club manages to overlook stark reality is beyond belief at times. Did anyone really teach these people to read? If so, no doubt an indictment of the quality of education in this country.

  • How can it be that Farage has a voice on LBC? His principle position is fear and hate and self promotion. The pro brexit team look to the 27 to be ‘more reasonable’ to enable a solution to be found with these talks. Holding the EU responsible for the UK’s failure to agree amongst various factions will damage relations for a long time and place a sour note on whatever deal is arrived at.

  • As well as Brexit not featuring in the German elections, I read a French newspaper every day and Brexit is hardly ever mentioned so it should be obvious that the Germans and the French are not very bothered about whether this country decides to leave or stay. Also reading the Washington Post there is little evidence that the US will give us a deal except on their terms, and that probably applies to most other countries as well. So if you add all that together with the problem of Northern Ireland, Brexit would seem to be a very poor deal whatever the Brexiters might say.