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Brexit: German leaders' emotional letter to UK

January 18, 2019

Over 20 major figures from German politics, sports, business and entertainment have written a passionate appeal to the UK. Britons would "always have friends in Germany and Europe," they wrote.

London Brexit Protest Charlie Chaplin
Image: Reuters/C. Kilcoyne

Leading German politicians, celebrities, athletes and business leaders have written an emotional letter in Friday's edition of the British Times newspaper, insisting to their "British friends" that the door to the European Union would always remain open. 

"Britain has become part of who we are as Europeans," the letter read. "And therefore we would miss Britain. We would miss the legendary British black humor and going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale. We would miss tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road."

The short but impassioned message was signed by the leaders of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Green Party, as well as the heads of four major industry associations, the CEOs of Daimler and Airbus, the rock star Campino, classical pianist Igor Levit, and former national football goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.

The letter's signatories included Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, successor to Angela Merkel as head of the CDU and potentially Germany's next chancellor.

With the UK in political deadlock over Prime Minister Theresa May's defeated withdrawal deal, the EU faces the prospect of a "hard Brexit," which could lead to disastrous short-term economic consequences.

At a regular government press conference on Friday, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated the government's position: that it was up to London to come up with a viable deal.

Contribution to Europe

The letter began by thanking the UK for its historical service to the European continent. "After the horrors of the Second World War, Britain did not give up on us," it read. "It has welcomed Germany back as a sovereign nation and a European power. This we, as Germans, have not forgotten and we are grateful."

The leaders insisted that while "we realize that the freedom we enjoy as Europeans today has in many ways been built and defended by the British people," they respected the choice of the British people to leave the EU.

Its ending was equally heartfelt: "Therefore Britons should know: From the bottom of our hearts, we want them to stay."

The response from pro-European British politicians was equally effusive, with former Labour Party minister Andrew Adonis describing it as the most important letter written to the venerable paper in his whole life.

One of the letter's signatories, Franziska Brantner, Europe policy spokeswoman for the Green Party, said the purpose of the letter was to ensure that Britons realized, "in these very difficult times," that Germany still welcomed them in the EU. 

"Brexit makes us all weaker," she told DW. "We can say that Britain has always helped us find pragmatic solutions and move forward. And we still need the Britons for a reform of the EU. We don't want to guarantee the Britons more rights without obligations, that's not possible, but we want to say: The door is open, if you want to reconsider, we would be happy."

Other prominent German figures have found their own way to massage Britain's ego in anticipation of the impending exit from the European Union. Wolfgang Ischinger, veteran diplomat and chairman of next month's Munich Security Conference (MSC), told reporters on Wednesday that Britain's historical importance meant the EU must try to give it a "special role" after Brexit.

"Even if you're not a friend of Britain, you have to admit that Europe's security and defense policy has to a significant degree been carried by Britain," he said. "Britain is, let's face it, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, [Germany], for example, isn't. ... Britain happens to be a nuclear country, and there's only one other European country that has that — France."

"The British know-how about foreign policy issues of almost all kinds, is, let's be honest, usually greater than that of the Germans, or the Estonians, or the Portuguese, simply because they have a lot of experience, because they're a former world power, because they have a highly-competent diplomatic community," Ischinger said.

What's next for Brexit bedlam?

Benjamin Knight Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH
Ben Knight Ben Knight is a journalist in Berlin who mainly writes about German politics.@BenWernerKnight