Germany warns UK not to jump the gun on trade talks

Berlin's official spokesperson politely reminded Theresa May that the UK cannot start negotiating trade deal before it exits the EU. [Surrey County Council/Flickr]

Germany has warned Britain against negotiating free trade deals with non-EU member states before it quits the bloc, after Prime Minister Theresa May sought to drum up commerce agreements during a G20 summit in China.

“As spokesman of the German government, I am not going to judge who the British prime minister holds talks with,” Steffen Seibert told journalists in Berlin.

But he stressed that “it is clear that an EU member state cannot hold bilateral talks on free trade deals with non-EU states as long as it remains a member of the EU”.

Britain voted in June to leave the EU, but has not formally started the process to do so.

Berlin has repeatedly said that it and other EU members would not begin exit negotiations with Westminster before it triggers the EU’s Article 50 process to leave.

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But May is under strong pressure at home to define what a post-Brexit world would look like, and one of her key challenges would be renegotiating Britain’s access to world markets — an issue that Brussels currently undertakes on its behalf.

The British leader sought to use the occasion of the G20 to discuss free trade deals with non-EU states, meeting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to discuss a possible agreement.

However, Australia seemingly ruled out pre-Brexit negotiations. Minister for Trade Steven Ciobo indicated a deal would not be considered until the UK’s exit negotiations are completed and “when the time is right”. Australia has emerged as one of the favourites to be the UK’s first post-EU deal.

India, Mexico, South Korea and Singapore also signalled they would “welcome” talks on removing trade barriers, May said.

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Speaking in parliament, the prime minister refused to show her hand prematurely, saying “I know many people are keen to see rapid progress and to understand what post-Brexit Britain will look like. We are getting on with that vital work but we must also think through the issues in a sober and considered way,” she said.

“We will not take decisions until we are ready, we will not reveal our hand prematurely and we will not provide a running commentary on every twist and turn of the negotiation.”

The country’s chancellor, Philip Hammond, today indicated that he wants “the best deal” for the UK’s financial services sector once it leaves the EU.

However, UBS, the Swiss banking giant, has warned that Brexit could see the company slash a third of its London-based personnel.

In an interview with a Japanese publication, Sergio Ermotti said UBS “currently employs more than 5,000 people in London and probably 20% to 30% of our workforce could be affected.” London is the headquarters of UBS’s European operations.

Ermotti admitted that London would probably continue to be an important financial centre, although “maybe not as important as it is today”.

In a further blow to the British economy, Ryanair announced that not one of its 50 newest aircraft will be based in the UK because the company sees “much more political certainty in mainland Europe”.

The airline’s outspoken CEO, Michael O’Leary, recently said that Ireland should “tell the EU to f*** off” in the wake of the European Commission’s decision to hand Apple a €13 billion fine.

Towards the post-Brexit relationship

EURACTIV’s live coverage of the new UK government beginning to deal with the country’s exit from the EU unfolded like this…

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