Risk of hard Brexit grows every day, warns German industry chief

Many businesses in Germany are still hoping the UK reverses its decision to leave the EU, according to a German industry chief who warned of the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.

“The risk of a hard Brexit is growing by the day,” said Joachim Lang, head of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), in a wide-ranging interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper. “Every business would do well to prepare for this worst-case scenario.”

German businesseshad been unsettled by the British government’s recent warnings, he said. “What’s new is that the British government itself is now warning about the possibility of a hard Brexit It is carefully preparing its population for that [eventuality].”

The BDI – which describes itself as “the voice of German industry” – has set up a Brexit taskforce comprising more than 200 experts to assess the risks. 

“We suspect that the effects of a hard Brexit will be considerably more serious than the British government is currently telling its citizens,” said Lang. “And above all, in Britain itself – the British have already gone from a growth engine to the worst performers in Europe.”

Foreign investment in the UK had “plummeted,” he said, which was “a dramatic development which should prompt urgent action from the government in London”.

Lang did not mince his words when asked whether German industry would like to see Brexit reversed in a second referendum. “Voters voted for Brexit, that should be respected,” said Lang. “But it would save a lot of businesspeople sleepless nights if the British stayed in the EU.”

“[Britain is] an exceptionally liberal and market-orientated country,” he said. “We would like to continue with them as a partner in the EU. That’s why many in [German] industry want the British to reconsider leaving. Whether that’s realistic or romantic is another kettle of fish. We’re telling our businesses: prepare for the worst, and hope that it turns out better.”

The UK is Germany’s fifth-largest trading partner; €84bn (£76bn) worth of goods were exported to Britain last year. But these are uncertain times for the 2,200 UK-based German businesses and their 412,000 employees. 

In March the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) published a checklist to prepare for Brexit, detailing how changes in transport of goods, financial services, taxes and contracts could affect Germans doing business in the UK.