How not to lecture the Germans on politics and prosperity

by Quentin Peel | 17.11.2017

The capacity of the UK government in general, and chief Brexit negotiator David Davis in particular, to misread the mood and sensitivities of the other member states of the EU beggars belief.

He did it again this week when he seized the chance to lecture a German business conference in Berlin on why “putting politics above prosperity is never a smart choice”. It went down badly.

Citing the range and scale of German exports to Britain, he declared that “no one would allow short-term interests to risk those hard-earned gains”. He clearly seemed to imply that was precisely what he thought the German government was doing.

According to the Daily Telegraph, normally the most loyal of supporters, “his speech was greeted with incredulous laughter”. The audience seemed to think it was Davis who wasn’t very smart. “It is kind of ironic,” as one businessman told the BBC. “The whole (UK) referendum put politics ahead of prosperity.”

It is not clear whether Davis is guilty of hypocrisy or merely self-delusion. He is desperate to persuade German exporters to pressurise their government to give him a decent deal. What he fails to understand is that German business – like the German government – believes that preserving the integrity of the EU single market is a much higher commercial priority than protecting the UK economy from the consequences of Brexit.

There is no doubt that Berlin is proving tougher in the negotiations than the UK expected. For a start, the German finance ministry is the most hard-line in insisting that the UK must agree to meet its outstanding budget commitments. It is seen as a matter of principle as much as a question of self-protection: Germany will be the largest contributor to any budget hole left by Brexit.

Now Berlin has thrown another spanner in the works, by expressing serious doubts about the viability of the two-year transition period that Theresa May is looking for.

Germany has political and legal objections. Angela Merkel does not like the idea of a “standstill” that does not change UK access to the single market on Brexit day, officials say. The transition deal must be off-the-shelf and not a bespoke agreement. Off-the-shelf means a continuation of the status quo, “in which case, there is nothing to negotiate”.

But if the UK has formally left the EU at the start of the transition period, Berlin sees that as raising legal problems with other third countries. They will be entitled to demand comparable market access, unless the UK and EU agree a bespoke customs union. If there is a new customs union, the UK will have to negotiate new trade deals with all other third countries.

Until a new coalition government has been formed in Berlin, the officials involved have very little room for manoeuvre. The four-party coalition negotiations are proving every bit as complicated as people predicted.

Davis knew this when he boarded the plane for Berlin. He was unable to meet a single important political figure, because they were all tied up in the coalition negotiations. It made his trip look all the more like an attempt to appeal to German business over the heads of Angela Merkel and her ministers. It was another example of tin-eared British diplomacy in pursuit of an impossible Brexit.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    2 Responses to “How not to lecture the Germans on politics and prosperity”

    • What a terrific blunder from David Davies! His lecturing to Germans in Berlin about – “Putting politics above prosperity is never a good idea” – was a brilliant shot in the foot.

      I hope this gets quoted back to him in the House of Commons: “Please could the Right Honourable Gentleman advise whether or not David Cameron was putting politics above prosperity?”

      Apart from the German audience laughing at him, obviously DD wasn’t of sufficient interest for Angela Merkel and colleagues to break off from more serious matters, i.e. negotiating the cormation of a “serious” goverment.

    • Left wing remoaner garbage. This idiot still lives in the dark ages and refuses to acknowledge that brexiteers have been proved right time after time in 2017 that the voters with half a brain cell were clearly putting prosperity before politics as shown by every economic indicator