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Berlin nixes UK plea for bespoke banking deal

January 10, 2018

Germany has said its focus remains on preserving EU unity in the run-up to the next Brexit talks. The comments came as two top UK ministers went to Germany to appeal for a special post-Brexit deal on financial services.

Großbritannien Börse in London Symbolbild
Image: Reuters/T. Melville

The German government on Wednesday sought to pour cold water over Britain's hopes of a bespoke post-Brexit arrangement for financial services.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman told reporters that Berlin's focus would remain on preserving a unified stance among the 27 EU nations as Brexit negotiations prepare to enter a critical phase. Britain's financial services industry is expected to be one the main battlegrounds in the next stage of talks.

Read more: 2018: The year of Brexit decisions

"We have always stressed the importance of the unity of the EU 27 ...this will continue to be our focus," Steffen Seibert told reporters.

Seibert's remarks came in response to a joint article by the UK's Brexit Secretary David Davis and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond published in Wednesday's German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Frankfurt benefits from Brexit

In it, the two ministers appealed to the German government for a "bespoke solution" that would maximize continued economic cooperation between the UK and rest of the bloc.

Britain's plea

"When we leave the European Union, we will leave the customs union and single market, but in agreeing a new model of co-operation, we should not restrict ourselves to models and deals that already exist," wrote Davis and Hammond. "Instead we should use the imagination and ingenuity that our two countries and the EU have shown in the past, to craft a bespoke solution that builds on our deeply integrated, unique starting point to maximize economic co-operation, while minimizing additional friction."

Read more: Brexit poll shows majority of Britons want to remain in the EU

The article coincided with a special visit by the two ministers to Berlin, in what has been described as "charm offensive" aimed at German lawmakers and business leaders. According to Britain's Financial Times newspaper, the chancellor would meet with Berlin politicians to make out the case for a unique EU-UK for financial services that Prime Minister Theresa May would go on to negotiate.

Davis, meanwhile, would meet with German business leaders to "try to mobilize German business to lobby for a deal that maintains close economic ties," according to the newspaper.

However, Seibert said that no one in the German cabinet was set to meet with either Davis or Hammond. 

Chances of a special deal

Despite the UK's faith in striking a special Brexit agreement, Brussels has repeatedly stressed that London will not be able to "cherry pick" a favorable trade relationship while refusing the free movement of people.

Europe's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has also explicitly said that there will be no special Brexit deal for Britain's financial services industry, which accounts for more than 10 percent of Britain's gross domestic product.

Given the UK's stated "red lines" on what it will and will not accept, the EU is currently only granting Britain one of two options going into the second round negotiations: it can either maintain its current trading relationship by remaining in the single market and accepting continued freedom of movement, or it can strike a far more limited trading arrangement along the lines of the bloc's deal with Canada.

Read more: How a hard Brexit could hurt Germany

The UK, meanwhile, has argued that the EU will eventually yield, rather than inflict damage on its own member states by cutting off ties to London's market.

May's meeting with finance heads

A spokesperson for May said the prime minister was scheduled to meet with London's major financial executives — including Barclays, Aviva and Goldman Sachs — on Thursday to outline what Britain's exit from the EU means for them.

It comes amid concerns that Brexit and a loss of access to the single market could upset as Britain's position as Europe's financial hub.

Read more: UK to abide by EU rules in Brexit transition, with no voice

Banks and insurers in the UK are enacting contingency plans to move parts of the operations to the mainland.

The Bank of England, the UK's central bank, has stated it is plausible that some 10,000 job could leave the UK by the time it withdraws from the EU in March 2019. Some consultants estimate that figure to be more than seven times higher.

Striking a deal — will they or won't they?

dm/rc (dpa, AP, Reuters)