Post Brexit trade – a refreshing British-Austrian perspective from an experienced UK industrialist

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Last night’s Shirley Williams Lecture (SWL) was really enlightening but also quite scary.

The speaker was Juergen Maier CBE, described as follows on the SWL website:

One of the UK’s leading industrialists and business thinkers, Juergen Maier rose to prominence as the Chief Executive of Siemens UK. A regular on Question Time and a Board Member of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, Juergen has been outspoken on major issues such as Brexit, Industrial Strategy and the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Juergen gave us a little more detail about his life story. After being born in Germany, he grew up in Leeds from the age of ten and went to Nottingham Trent University.

As a result of this unusual background, Juergen Maier is able to provide a unique perspective – British-Austrian with a deep insight in British business and trade.

Some highlights which stood out for me were:

  • We are facing a significant reduction in trade with the EU, perhaps 20%
  • Not only are exporting companies facing non-tariff barriers for trade with the EU, but they are also facing, in some cases, actual tariffs – related to the rules of origin.
  • It is unlikely that we can fill the gap by reducing or changing product or service standards
  • To fill the gap we would need to increase trade with China or other countries by many times. That isn’t going to happen.
  • There is this frenetic activity about Free Trade Deals but there are still less of them than when we were in the EU
  • There needs to be a strategy behind our Free Trade Deals – climate change improvement? Human Rights protection?
  • We need a serious industrial strategy. In innovation areas like 5G and hydrogen technology, the UK are investing a hundred or so million pounds each. But in those areas, Germany is investing multiple billions of Euros.
  • It seems inevitable that we will have to, sooner or later, eat humble pie and go back to the EU to re-negotiate our trade deal for more frictionless trade in the form of membership of the single market, or a Swiss-style deal.

I asked a question under the cloak of anonymity:

Is there something about the British psyche – compared to that of the EU27 – where we get more excited about the mythical advantage of passport colour than the bread and butter of trade?

Juergen Maier’s response surprised me in its emotional power. He mentioned that his grand-father was a Nazi soldier, a close relative lived through the bombing of Dresden. He said that people in Austria, Germany and France have a completely different perspective borne out of their history. They earnestly look to the EU to preserve peace and reach out to people in other countries in a genuine spirit of openness. He said that if there was a referendum in the UK about preserving peace then it would be lost. But if you held a referendum in Germany or Austria about peace then it would be won.

The Shirley Williams Lecture website allows you to join up as a member to enjoy future monthly lectures and watch recordings of past ones including last night’s by Juergen Maier.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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15 Comments

  • On the question of the ‘British psyche’ – if there is such a thing – I suspect Mr Maier will find a very different attitude towards the EU in Scotland.

    From my perch in the Lothians, I observe a much more self defeating insular nationalism south of the Border.

  • This hits the nail on the head. The spirit in England is the wartime spirit, a cold war with Europe will be welcomed by the Brexiters to teach these uppity foreigners who won the war. Europe has had enough of all that, France was occupied and Germany reduced to rubble, they have learnt their lesson.

  • What worries me more than anything is the complete disconnect between Government and Industry. The present cabinet and indeed the Conservative Party in parliament has very few people who worked anywhere near industry as opposed to the close relationship between employers’ organisations in Germany for instance. The CBI is completely disregarded.
    So I fear a downward spiral as jobs relocate and inward investment (our saviour not so long ago) dries up. Raab spoke about new markets last week. Where are they specifically? He hasn’t a clue. It will only end when people in the Red Wall are a lot poorer.

  • John Marriott 17th Feb '21 - 1:54pm

    Lincoln has a lot to thank Siemens for. It provides massive employment opportunities for local and not so local people, having taken over the turbine manufacturing and maintenance business for which the city was famous several years ago. Long may this continue.

    They used to say that we Brits work to live whereas the Germans live to work. Just take a look at the senior management of many German engineering firms and you will invariably find the following initials ‘Dipl-ing’ after its CEO’s name, probably with the initials ‘Dr’ in front as well. The initials stand for ‘Diplomingenieur’ which denotes a Master’s Degree in Engineering. Ask a Brit what the words ‘engineer’ mean to him and he will probably imagine some dirty faced grease monkey with a spanner in his hand. Not in Germany.

    This view is sadly still reflected in our attitude to vocational education in many of our schools, thanks largely to diktats from successive governments via the Department of Education and Science.

    It is interesting that Mr Maier attended Nottingham Trent University. Given that I did a Diploma in Educational Management there in the early 1980s, when it was known as Trent Polytechnic, it’s quite possible that this is what it was called when Mr Maier was a student there. Polytechnics were supposed to be our answer to the vocational schools and colleges that provided West Germany with its skilled workforce after WW2 and still do to the present day. The rot set in over here when our government decided to rebrand them as universities and their bias towards technical training largely went out of the window, as the ‘ologies’ took over.

  • David Evans 17th Feb '21 - 1:58pm

    Actually, the big problem with the trade deals that have been done is that they are all uniformly bad. And here one thing that Brexiteers said was true – A bad deal is worse than No deal.

    The deal with the EU was great for the EU
    o German cars – no tariffs
    o British Financial services – no chance

    o French wine – no tariffs
    o British fish – no chance

    These deals are set and set a baseline for future negotiations. If we gain on some aspects we will have to give on others.

    They are done and the Boris Johnson has already surrendered.

    The only thing that is oven Ready is the UK turkey which is being roasted as we speak by our international competitors.

  • The speaker is correct about British attitudes
    The leave vote was an emotional one grounded in delusions of grandeur (fuelled to some degree by James bond films endlessly showing us how Britain rules the world!), when in fact it occupies a fairly small space in global governance. The UK today is not the UK of Victorian times, and its importance will only diminish post-Brexit.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Feb '21 - 2:14pm

    I wonder how long it will take for the majority of British people to realise what a terrible mistake Brexit was?? Probably some of them never will.

  • nigel hunter 17th Feb '21 - 2:37pm

    Financial services are the next to go.Their will be a slow drip of the countries wealth to other countries more interested in success for them and their people than the Ostrich head in the sand of Tory philosophy of today.
    The Tories thought we were still a World power until the US pulled the plug over Suez.The French realised things were changing and changed direction,our head stayed in the sand.As the country gets poorer will those in charge take us down like the Titanic or,as mentioned, go cap in hand to rejoin.? In the meantime,slowly,the ordinary person will become poorer.

  • john oundle 17th Feb '21 - 3:10pm

    It seems inevitable that we will have to, sooner or later, eat humble pie and go back to the EU to re-negotiate our trade deal for more frictionless trade’

    No mention of the fact that the UK has suspended full customs controls ,duties,sanitary procedures, etc. until April / June.

    Lets see what happens when we get a level playing field of border controls when both sides are subject to full controls.

  • @ Gerry “the speaker is correct about British attitudes”. Don’t you mean English attitudes, Gerry ?

    @ Barry Lofty “I wonder how long it will take for the majority of British people to realise what a terrible mistake Brexit was ?”

    They always did in Scotland, Barry, but Johnson and chums don’t give a flying ………… about that – which explains a lot about what will be the next big doings in the next twelve months.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Feb '21 - 4:41pm

    David Raw @ I have always thought it would be a sad day if Scotland led the breakup of the UK, but given the present scenario in the country one could hardly blame them, sad as that would be.

  • Ianto Stevens 18th Feb '21 - 10:39am

    Interesting that everyone agrees unreservedly with Mr Maier’s analysis. I do as well, but only to a point. I spoke to many Brexit-minded folk while demonstrating and leafletting for the second referendum. Very many people who incline to Brexit were persuaded that the Commission is a drag on enterprise, that it imposes unnecessary regulation and is anti-democratic. They also believe that the EU favours large institutions at the expense of working people. Many people of Asian decent resent the free movement of Europeans while their own families, or people they know well, have suffered the full force of the ‘hostile environment’.
    I believe that hostile attitudes to the EU have been carefully fostered by an unholy alliance between narrow nationalists and people anxious to profit personally from mass deregulation. It is also obvious to me that it is always tempting for British governments to blame their own problems on the EU. I feel passionately internationalist and am emotionally drawn to EU membership. I nevertheless recognise that nationalism and anti-EU feeling is complex and can’t be oversimplified and reduced to ‘All these fools still believe we rule the world.’

  • John Littler 21st Feb '21 - 12:52pm

    We are never going to get a proper active Industrial Strategy with this government. Vince Cable’s in the coalition, was the only one this side of Callaghan

    The Germans do theirs brilliantly and it pays for itself several times over. All we need to do is copy their and make the environment a little more flexible for small companies, which they tend to regulate out of easy existence. Their only fault

  • Here we go again. The aim of any political party is to get power. Harping about Brexit is not going to help the liberals. But if the party goes in with a tone of helping, improving, bridges of cooperation will get the party further than the I told you so attitude which has done the party no favour in the past. Stop polishing your EU credentials and start polishing the international ones. Look at supporting UK business and proposing regulations and loan schemes etc to assist. That way lib Dems can be seen relevant. Last time I posted a tirade like this.. The moderator got me…. So fingers crossed this time

  • Antony Watts 28th Feb '21 - 9:54am

    So what is our next step. I’m done with “this is the problem, this is the situation”. We Lib Dems have to formulate a way forward, both domestically and internationally (presumably within the EU).

    As always, we lack a vision. Which is one thing the EU is very good at formulating, for example “Green and Digital”

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