Brexit ‘freak show’ will hurt us all, European business leader says


“The business community has invested enormously in bringing more rationality into something we think is a very bad idea from the outset,” Mr Beyrer said.

An anti-Brexit protester wears a Boris Johnson comic face mask near the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday.Credit:Bloomberg

“It will not make Europe stronger, and of course it will be very challenging for the UK and there are very heavy underestimations of the impacts.”

While business leaders in Europe had sought agreed terms on the British departure from the EU, it now warns of the cost of confusion in Westminster.

“The problem is when it becomes totally irrational and you need to ratify it to make it work,” Mr Beyrer said.

“Following what I call the Westminster freak show over the last year is a concern.

“You know you have an agreement and you need to ratify, and then you are watching by the week and the debates are very interesting but you realise that you have no majority for anything but you have permanent majorities against everything.

“It looks a bit like a reality show so therefore it is not very reassuring.”

Australia cannot negotiate a trade agreement with the United Kingdom until the Brexit terms are finalised, but it is proceeding with an EU deal that is estimated to be worth $15 billion in economic gains.

But Mr Beyrer said the trade deal would have to end Australia’s use of names like feta and parmesan when those geographic indicators, or GIs, are claimed by European regions in the same way as champagne.

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“This is something I think we should say very, very clearly and very upfront, because this is a question of principle,” Mr Beyrer said during an interview in Canberra.

“So there should be no illusions that principles will be betrayed.

“But as we have seen in other trade agreements, compromises are possible.”

Mr Beyrer and BusinessEurope’s trade chief, Luisa Santos, said Australia could press for a transition period to wind down the use of contested names, but that consumers were better off if they knew the origin of the product they bought.

“It is in the interests of consumers,” Ms Santos said.

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“There is a difference between a real parmesan that comes from Europe and whatever is produced in Australia or somewhere else.

“They know, or should know, that parmesan, or port wine, or Tyrolean speck – there is a real one that comes from Europe and the local products. They should be aware that there is a difference.”

While the timetable for the trade deal is uncertain, Mr Beyrer said Australia and the EU had a chance to counter the rising protectionism from the trade war between the US and China.

“Unfortunately, we are faced with a world where the US has become more protectionist and is partly destroying a system we have created together, and that is dangerous for European countries but also Australia,” he said.

“We will have to see how far this goes but for now our aim is to maintain a positive agenda.

“At the same time we are also very clear that there are certain steps we would not accept. So if the US imposed car tariffs on Europe, then Europe would react and the European business community would stand behind it.”

He said European business community was reassessing assumptions that China was moving towards a market economy.

“We more or less came to the conviction that it’s not a market economy and it doesn’t want to be a market economy, and therefore we would need a new script on how to deal with it,” he said.

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