Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has slammed the door on Britain retaining access to the single market if it votes to the leave the European Union.
In an interview in a Brexit-themed issue of German weekly Der Spiegel, the influential veteran politician ruled out the possibility of the UK following a Swiss or Norwegian model where it could enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member.
“That won’t work,” Schäuble told Der Spiegel. “It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.
“If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”
The German conservative’s intervention seems to rule out the “reverse Maastricht” option floated privately by some British MPs and government sources, whereby pro-remain MPs in Westminster could use their parliamentary majority to retain access to the single market after a British exit from the EU.
Their first target is likely to be to try to ensure that despite a Brexit the UK could remain in the single market by joining the European economic area, of which the non-EU countries Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland are currently members.
The single market – to which Switzerland also has access despite not being a member of either the EU or the EEA – guarantees the free movement of people, goods and services inside the bloc.
Supporters of the British Leave campaign argue that it is in Germany’s economic interest to maintain barrier-free trade relations with the United Kingdom. Britain is the third largest export market for German car manufacturers, and the destination of around 7% of total German exports.
But commentators in Germany point out that Germany has more to lose from a Brexit than a segment of its export market, and that the government was able sideline economic interest to diplomacy in its relationship with Russia.