Germany will look to strike a free trade deal with Britain within two years, an MP has predicted
Former minister and top eurosceptic Owen Paterson said industry chiefs in Berlin had told him they are not prepared to stand by and allow EU governments to impose a punishment deal on the UK.
Instead, they said they will push their under-fire Chancellor to put in place the framework for a free trade deal within the two year period granted by Article 50 for official divorce talks.
Their private comments are in direct contradiction to public remarks made by a number of powerful German lobby groups, who have stated that keeping the rest of the EU together should be a priority.
The stark divide demonstrates how much the negotiations will prove to be a game of cat and mouse, with open pronouncements to the media differing wildly from what is said behind closed doors.
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Mr Paterson, the MP for north Shropshire, revealed what German industry chiefs had said to him following a fact-finding mission to Berlin with John Longworth, the former chief of the British Chambers of Commerce.
He said: "We were talking to German business leaders about the mutual benefits of reciprocal free trade with Britain once we have left the European Union.
"Many German businesses already understand how fundamental the British export market is for their prosperity – and are determined the EU strikes a full and comprehensive free trade deal with the UK within the two year negotiating period.
"Any trade barriers erected will have a detrimental effect on jobs and prosperity in EU member states. German businesses do not want vital trade to be interrupted – and we want to work with them to make sure it is not.
"European business leaders are determined that their governments do not now play politics with a trading relationship so fundamental to the prospects of EU economies."
Mr Paterson did not disclose which German business leaders he and Mr Longworth spoke to, or which sectors of the country's economy they represented.
But the pair now plan to visit major business groups in Ireland and the Netherlands in the coming weeks as they tour Europe attempting to drum up business support for free trade with Britain.
Publicly EU leaders have put on a tough and united front over Brexit, insisting that there can be "no negotiation without notification" and that Britain cannot enjoy full access to the single market without accepting free movement.
Powerful German industry leaders have recently got on board with Mrs Merkel's message – in public at least – saying that they believe the preservation of the EU is more important than trade with Britain.
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But privately it appears that they are much more open to a compromise solution, with as many as 750,000 manufacturing jobs and 89 billion euros a year in exports on the line for Germany alone if tariffs are imposed.
Instead, the tough rhetoric coming out of Berlin is being seen as a very public attempt to shore up the EU and discourage voters in other eurosceptic countries, like Italy, France and Sweden, from following the UK out of the exit door.
The revelations come as prime minister Theresa May prepares to jet out to Washington DC on Thursday to become the first foreign leader to meet the new US President Donald Trump.
The Republican's top team have already indicated that a free trade deal between the UK and America will form part of the discussions, with Mr Trump reportedly keen to seal an agreement as soon as possible after Britain leaves the EU.