The German finance minister has issued an open invitation to the UK to reach a new deal to improve Brexit trading relations that would reduce trade barriers and “obstacles in daily business life”.
Christian Lindner told the BBC: “This is a standing invitation for the UK: if you want to intensify your trade relationship to the EU, call us. We really appreciate the United Kingdom and its values, its people … and I would really, really appreciate it if we can intensify [the trade relationship] again.”
His comments will come as a surprise to the European Commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, who negotiated the Brexit trade deal, and they throw the door open to the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, who has said he will seek “a much better” relationship with the EU if he wins the next general election.
Germany backs tariff delay on electric vehicle sales between UK and EURead more
Šefčovič has insisted the Brexit deal will not be “put in the shredder”. He is also resisting calls from the car industry in the UK and the EU for a three-year suspension of tariffs, scheduled to come into force in January, on electric car exports.
It is understood he may, however, agree to a one-year suspension as a compromise.
Lindner said Brexit had created “obstacles in daily business life” and was making trade with the UK more difficult.
“In the daily life of German corporates, there are new obstacles since Brexit … I don’t think [the] United Kingdom is benefiting from Brexit,” he said.
Experts have said that even without a root and branch review of the Brexit deal, there are ways to reduce barriers.
The UK’s House of Lords identified 72 areas where improvements could be made earlier this year, including easier visa arrangements for touring musicians and theatre performers, a return to the mutual recognition of qualifications for professionals, such as accountants, and a loosening of the rules for visiting schoolchildren.
Lindner’s comments are the first from one of the EU’s biggest economies to suggest the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson and David Frost is also hurting EU businesses.
There have been fears that the German economy has moved into a “slowcession”, with expectations that it will have shrunk by 0.4% this year as result of high inflation, high energy prices and weak international trade.
The government had predicted growth of 0.4% for 2023 in its April forecast, but weakness in the industrial sector and the highest interest rates in a decade are spurring fears of another recession this year in the eurozone’s largest economy.
Germany is the UK’s second-largest trading partner, according to UK government statistics released in September, accounting for 8% of total UK trade.
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The daily cost of doing trade has changed, however, with customs and standards paperwork and certification needed after the UK left the single market.
The car industry has called for a three-year suspension of the pending tariff, but the EU is split. Its commissioner responsible for the internal market, Thierry Breton, recently told the Guardian it could not offer special protection for one industry over another.
Critics say the car industry is to blame, not the Brexit deal, for not accelerating the production of chemicals needed to make electric motor batteries and allowing Chinese rivals to steal a march on it.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The trade and cooperation agreement is the world’s largest zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade deal.
“It secures the UK market access across key service sectors and opens new opportunities for UK businesses across the globe.
“Following the Windsor framework, both the UK and EU have publicly committed to maximising the opportunities of the TCA even further.”