BBC’s Damien McGuinness reports from Berlin about how two Brexiteers’ address to a conference of German business leaders, intended to secure decidedly United Kingdom-friendly terms, managed instead to fail. The profound misunderstanding of German intentions and German interests is almost painful to read about.
The distinguished audience members were too polite to heckle. But the eye rolling, frowns and audible tutting made it quite clear how the Brexiteers’ message was going down with German business leaders.
Owen Paterson, a former minister and Conservative MP, and John Longworth, co-chair of Leave Means Leave, came to Berlin on Saturday with a clear mission – to persuade German business leaders to lobby Chancellor Angela Merkel to give Britain a good trade deal.
They should have been on safe territory.
The two men are confident, witty speakers with impressive business and free-trade credentials.
Mr Longworth is a former head of the British Chamber of Commerce. Mr Paterson’s years spent trading in Germany meant he could open his address with a few remarks in German – which drew an appreciative round of applause – and a well-judged joke about multilingual trade.
But it turned out they had entered the lion’s den.
The laughter from the audience quickly turned to sniggers as they heard the UK described as “a beacon of open, free trade around the world”.
Westminster’s decision to leave the world’s largest free trade area does not look like that to Germany.
When Europe was blamed for spending cuts and a lack of British health care provision, there were audible mutters of irritation from the audience.