I had the pleasure in attending a very interesting event last week hosted by the Hessen Ministry for the Economy and the UK Ambassador to Germany. The event was designed to bring together people and companies with a strong connection to the UK for a networking evening and to hear directly from the Ambassador, Sir Sebastian Wood, and the Hessen State Minister, Tarek Al-Wazir, their respective opinions on Brexit. The room was full of a mixture of business people from German and UK companies and a few reps from local universities. Quite a good turnout overall.
Firstly I have to say, the location was great. (See Main picture!) It was in the Klassikstadt which is a essentially a converted factory for antique sports cars. The cars are privately owned and stored here on display like a public parking lot (€200 a month + tax in case you are thinking about it). Some are for sale, others just there for safe keeping. Worth a visit if you are into old cars.
But back to Brexit. Curiously, I received an invite for this event just after reading that the Foreign Office had been told to go on a charm offensive around Europe to counter ideas that they were under-prepared. The two speeches were actually pretty interesting as much for what they did say as what they didn’t. The Ambassador went straight to the point – Britain wasn’t under-prepared for negotiations, it was just by unlucky photoshoots and a few unfriendly news reports. The message for British citizens and companies is that we haven’t been forgotten and everything is going to be fine. Good to hear!
Unfortunately the Ambassador stuck too closely to the political line to give the feeling that it was really the whole story. The fact the actual problems in the negotiations were largely ignored meant that it felt like too much of a PR pitch.
The message from the Hessen Minister was far clearer and something that has been heard a lot recently: ‘We regret that you voted to leave, but Brexit now means Brexit’. Fair enough. The interesting message though was that Frankfurt (or officially the whole of Hessen) is gearing up to make itself an even stronger trading partner with the UK. And more than just in banking. There are company missions coming up to Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds (my old home!) next month. Hessen quite rightly was to be at the front of the queue for new post-Brexit business opportunities.
I’m not convinced that the businesses present see much need for drastic change at the moment, but who knows, maybe there is a Brexit-silver-lining after all.