7 December 2016

McAllister, who has a British father and is the former PM of the German state of Lower Saxony for Angela Merkel’s CDU party, is the German Chancellor’s ‘Brexit man’ in the European Parliament and he is number 28 on Euractiv’s list of “Top 50 influencers on Brexit.”

In this exclusive interview with Open Europe, McAllister makes clear that, at this stage, he sees a Free Trade Agreement as the most likely outcome of the negotiations. He expresses disappointment that despite efforts made by Germany and Eastern European member states to give David Cameron a renegotiation package to present to the British people, the eventual deal did not play a significant role in the UK’s referendum campaign. We take up the conversation with McAllister on the subject of the upcoming Article 50 negotiations.

Q: Do you think an interim Brexit deal is possible by 2019?

McAllister: “We are in uncharted territory. If the UK triggers Article 50 in March 2017, it’s expected to leave two years later. Let’s see what the UK plan is in detail. The best thing for the EU is not to comment before that. Let’s keep calm and begin to negotiate after Britain has triggered Article 50.”

Q: What do you think a final Brexit deal would look like?

McAllister: “The best relationship you can have with the EU is of course to be inside the EU, not outside. Since the UK is leaving, they will face a less good deal. Now we have to wait until the UK triggers Article 50, and then the negotiations begin.

I cannot tell exactly what will happen. The ball is in Britain’s court. They need to say what kind of relationship they would like, but roughly there are five options: Norway, the Swiss model, the Turkish model, which involves staying in the customs union, a Free Trade Agreement or WTO.

Prime Minister May has ruled out accepting ECJ jurisprudence and also accepting all four freedoms, so that means the Norwegian and Swiss option are ruled out. Given that a customs union like the one with Turkey isn’t that attractive, and the WTO outcome would be the least preferable, it will probably be an FTA in the end. We have excellent relations with Iceland, Switzerland and others, so why shouldn’t we have similar good relations with the UK after Brexit?

The UK is asking for this divorce. We are not eager to punish Britain nor are we eager to give it a favourable treatment.”

Q: What should be Germany’s role in the Brexit negotiations?

McAllister: “Germany is one of 27 member states. The Brexit negotiations concern the entire European Union and it is important that we speak with one voice.

Supporters of Brexit have promised things that aren’t on offer. London will need to choose: full access to the single market or restricting internal migration.

It’s disappointing that the compromise which was negotiated with the United Kingdom in February 2016 did not play a role at all in the Brexit referendum, especially given that the Eastern Europeans made as many concessions as possible for a presentable deal.”

Q: What do you think of the argument that EU countries also do not fully implement the four freedoms? For example, the services market isn’t fully open.

McAllister: “Yes, but we should not take a step back. Instead, the EU Commission is now actually trying to open up the services market further, for example with its digital single market initiative. It was always UK policy to push to complete the single market, until now. The UK should be leading, not leaving.”

Q: What do you think will be the effect of Trump’s victory on the Brexit negotiation?

McAllister: “Brexit is an internal European issue and it’s hard to predict what a Trump administration will mean in this regard. It will depend on who his advisors are. We want to strengthen transatlantic relations. TTIP will probably become more difficult, though. Trump has provided a high profile audience to [Ukip leader Nigel] Farage. However, Trump welcomed Brexit, so it is not such a surprise. But we’ll have to see the difference between Trump the campaigner and Trump the President.”