The Anglo-German relationship holds the key to Brexit, but do we really understand each other at all?

While Brussels might be the de facto capital of the EU, Berlin and London are its economic powerhouses. But what do Europe’s biggest frenemies really know about each other? William Cook, who finally got his German passport this year, unravels the myths of the Anglo-German relationship

Monday 01 October 2018 17:30
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Germany won’t bend the rules for Britain’s sake: that much is certain
Germany won’t bend the rules for Britain’s sake: that much is certain

Last month Theresa May went to Salzburg to try to sell her Chequers plan to European bigwigs at the EU summit – and the leader she was most keen to persuade is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. For our beleaguered prime minister, it was the moment of truth. Would Merkel tell Michel Barnier to stop being so beastly and give us a “have your cake and eat it” deal? Or would she tell May to get lost, and reveal Chequers to be a busted flush?

Ever since Britain voted to leave the EU, it’s been the same old story here in Blighty. Surely the Germans will come to our rescue? Surely they’ve got too much to lose? Don’t count on it. I’ve been reporting from Germany fairly regularly for nearly 30 years, and the one thing I’ve learnt is that Germans feel compelled to do things by the book. “Alles in ordnung” (everything in order) is their mantra when it comes to Europe – and virtually everything else, for that matter, at least if you believe the stereotype. For them, in means in and out means out – no ifs or buts. As one German civil servant told me bluntly: “It’s black and white.”

When Britain voted for Brexit in 2016, I was an archetypal Remoaner: a Londoner, a liberal, a member of the so-called “mainstream media”. However, since then I’ve changed my mind. Don’t get me wrong – I still think full membership of the EU, for all its faults, is by far the best way forward for any European nation. But I’ve also come to realise that, sadly, the EU is better off without us. The EU has some huge problems it needs to tackle – not least immigration – and it’ll tackle these problems a lot better without tens of millions of British Europhobes sniping from the sidelines, willing them to fail.

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