Why political chaos in Germany will not hand Britain a Brexit advantage

Prime Minister Theresa May (L) with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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Prime Minister Theresa May (L) with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
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Axel Schmidt/Reuters

  • German political instability will not give the UK any advantage on Brexit.
  • Experts tell Business Insider the political turmoil in Berlin will no “have any major impact on Brexit.
  • Brexit is not a “big issue” in Germany.

LONDON – Talks about forming a coalition government in Germany collapsed on Sunday, causing political instability in the most powerful country in the European Union.

The unprecedented failure of coalition talks has meant that another election could occur in January, four months after the country last went to the polls. On Monday Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would prefer to hold new elections to leading a minority government.

The development has led some prominent Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs to push UK prime minister Theresa May to “take advantage” of the situation and Merkel’s weakness to suspend plans to increase the UK’s offer for the divorce bill after Brexit.

Backbench Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Times it would be “foolish” to approve a higher financial settlement for the EU, and former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith urged the government to “sit tight” as the situation had tipped Brexit negotiation into chaos.

However, experts on German politics have told Business Insider that British politicians have vastly overestimated the significance of Brexit in German politics.

Dr Charlotte Galpin of the University of Birmingham said: “I wouldn’t expect this to have any major impact on Brexit… Brexit has always been very low down on German politicians’ list of priorities.”

Dr Hartwig Pautz of the University of West Scotland told BI: “I don’t think Brexit is seen to be a big issue in Germany – the decision has been taken, after all.”

Galpin said: “I would see it as irrelevant. Germany does still have a government, and this idea of a crisis in Germany is being overstated in the UK press.

“I’m not sure I see any scope for change on something like the so-called divorce bill. From a German point of view, it’s about the UK paying its commitments and the responsibilities it has already made to contribute to the EU budget. So there’s a very different conception in Germany of what this divorce bill conflict is all about.”

The former German ambassador to the UK told the Independent that instability in Berlin is “bad news for Britain,” not a situation to take advantage of.

Thomas Matussek said: “I think the German instability is bad news for Britain, it’s bad news for Europe but, most of all it is bad news for the Germans … You have a normally loud and constructive voice which has been silenced. You have a country that is looking inward and is self-absorbed.

No concessions from Germany

Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit on July 7, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany.

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Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit on July 7, 2017, in Hamburg, Germany.
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(Photo by Stefan Rousseau – Pool/Getty Images)

The UK should also not expect Germany to make concessions whether it has a stable government or not, but the current situation makes German Brexit interventions all the more unlikely.

Pautz, a co-convenor of the German Politics Specialist Group at the Political Studies Association said: “The German government is a caretaker government so they won’t be willing to make significant moves on the European stage.

“Convention has it that caretaker governments should not make decisions that limit what the next legitimate government can do.”

Galpin told BI: “All of the mainstream parties in Germany are more or less united on their approach to Brexit in that the guiding principle is unity amongst the EU27 and that there should be no cherry-picking of what country’s like about the EU.

“With the latest developments I would expect that still remains the case, but perhaps it would be even less likely that the UK government might get concessions from Germany.”

Pautz made it clear that Germans do not understand why Brexit is happening so slowly and why talks do not advance. He said: “The political class looks at Britain with some sort of bewilderment – about both the decision itself and about why progress in the negotiations doesn’t happen. People think they’re playing party politics on the back of the EU.