“Stay in single market”, German business leaders tell Tories

German industry leaders are urging the Conservatives to drop their plan to leave the single market and have warned that hopes they will intervene on the side of Britain to achieve a favourable Brexit deal are misplaced.

Tory Brexiteers David Davis and Boris Johnson claim that German exporters, such as car manufacturers, will pressure EU negotiators into striking a free trade deal with the UK after it has left the single market.

Despite the pair’s optimism, captains of German industry have rejected the idea – including German Employers’ Federation chief executive Steffan Kampeter, who was visiting the UK this week.

Speaking at a conference of British bosses in London, he said: “The top priority of European business is the integrity of the single market; the second priority is making good business with the UK. We will see if there is a conflict, but the message is: do not harm the single market by cherry-picking deals.”

“It’s not the German carmakers that are directing the negotiations,” said Kampeter, who added that he knows of no one who thinks a trade deal can be made within 18 months.

German economist Albrecht Ritschl said the UK should temporarily join the Efta trading bloc, which includes Switzerland and Norway, in order to maintain single market access and avoid dropping of a cliff edge that would hurt both the British and German economies.

Hopes that German industry will pressure Angela Merkel into making the EU sign a free trade deal with the UK before it leaves in 2019 misunderstand the relationship between business and politics in Germany, he said.

Ritschl told the Guardian: “Of course Germany has a strong export industry, but even in Berlin people have over the last two years come to realise that an enormous export surplus can be a weakness as well as a strength.

“Above all, German industry knows that when it comes to dealing with international politics, you sometimes have to go with what the government decides. In any case, if businesses had to choose between maintaining exports to the UK and keeping the European Union together, it’s obvious they would go with the latter.”