Of all people, the government has sent David Davis on a charm offensive to Germany.
Chaperoned by Philip Hammond, the Brexit Secretary warned the European Union not to put ‘unnecessary barriers’ to trade in goods and services between the bloc and the UK after Brexit.
The pair – who don’t see eye-to-eye over how the UK should leave the EU – are in Germany to target business leaders in an attempt to build support for a post-Brexit trade deal which would be the ‘most ambitious in the world’.
But as the two senior ministers landed Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier urged European companies with commercial links to the UK to start preparing for increased ‘friction’ in trade.
Their visit comes amid reports of German opposition to Theresa May’s plans for the post-Brexit relationship between the 27 EU members and the UK.
In a joint article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Chancellor Hammond and Davis said: ‘As two of Europe’s biggest economies, it makes no sense to either Germany or Britain to put in place unnecessary barriers to trade in goods and services that would only damage businesses and economic growth on both sides of the Channel.’
The Government wants a bespoke trade deal covering both goods and services after Brexit, with the UK leaving the single market and customs union.
Davis has previously told MPs that he wants the deal to deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ that the UK has as a member of the EU.
In the joint article the two Cabinet ministers acknowledged that Germany and other EU members want to protect the integrity of the single market ‘and that without all the obligations of EU membership third countries cannot have all the benefits’.
But they insisted that ‘those priorities are not inconsistent with ours, a deep and special partnership with our closest trading partners and allies’.
There were still ‘important choices to be made’ about the new relationship and ‘we should not restrict ourselves to models and deals that already exist’, they said, rejecting the EU’s view that a Canada-style free-trade deal was the only option open to the UK outside the single market.
But it is believed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is strongly opposed to a British plan for so-called ‘managed divergence’ from the EU after Brexit.
A senior official working on preparations for the next round of EU negotiations said the plan was viewed as the ‘latest episode in the ‘cake and eat it’ sitcom series’ and Germany viewed it as a ‘serious risk to the integrity of the EU and its single market’.