Angela Merkel never rode to Britain’s rescue during the Brexit negotiations and neither will Olaf Scholz, the man most likely to succeed her as German Chancellor.
Brexiteers regularly predicted that one day Mrs Merkel would order Brussels to fudge a compromise to protect the German car industry or avoid a no deal Brexit.
Such hopes were ultimately exposed as fantasy. Mrs Merkel never picked up the phone.
Later, she would rebuff Boris Johnson’s pleas for a call to break a Brexit deadlock and instead direct him back to the European Commission.
Mrs Merkel calculated that the root of German prosperity was the EU Single Market. Bending its rules to accommodate British cherry-picking simply wasn’t worth the risk.
Before he led the centre-Left SPD to victory, Olaf Scholz was finance minister in Mrs Merkel’s conservative CDU-led coalition.
He met Michel Barnier. He issued no deal Brexit warnings for German banks and businesses. As a vice-Chancellor in her government, he knows Merkelian thinking on Brexit.
Mr Scholz ran as a continuity candidate. He adopted her calm, cautious and considered manner in TV debates and his posters promised “competence for Germany.”
Mr Scholz was cautious and considered during the TV debates, presenting himself as a continuity candidate
Credit: CLEMENS BILAN/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
He was rewarded at the polls by voters who were more than happy to have a centrist “Merkel 2.0” take over after 16 years.
As far as Olaf Scholz is concerned Brexit, no longer a major concern for Germany, is done.
He was asked the day after his victory if Germany would be willing to send drivers to help the UK out with its lorry crisis. He pointed the finger at Brexit.
"The free movement of labour is part of the European Union, and we worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the Union,” he said.
“Now they decided different, and I hope that they will manage the problems coming from that.”
The UK’s desire to end freedom of movement cost it its membership of the Single Market. EU rules dictate you cannot have free movement of capital, goods, and labour without people.
Mr Scholz answered in English, which drew approval from some in the German media and only bolstered the sense of an international leader in waiting.
Mr Scholz has long been regarded as an international leader in waiting
Credit: HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
He was much more conciliatory than France’s Europe Minister Clément Beaune. He said the introduction of 5,0000 temporary visas had exposed the “intellectual fraud” of Brexit.
This was another leaf from the Merkel playbook. She had always played good cop to Emmanuel Macron’s bad cop.
“I think it’s constantly an important idea for all of us to make it happen that there will be good relations between the EU and the UK. But this is a problem to be solved,” said Mr Scholz.
Mrs Merkel pushed for the longest extensions possible to negotiations possible to avoid no deal and protect the UK-EU relations if possible.
Mr Scholz also wants good relations with the UK but the EU, its member states and especially Ireland will come first.
UK-EU relations have gone from bad to worse with rows over vaccine supplies and the Northern Ireland Protocol since Brexit took legal effect on Jan 31.
‘Concerns in Brussels beyond Brexit’
If he can form a ruling coalition, Mr Scholz will have plenty on his Brussels plate besides Brexit.
Mr Macron will be looking to push ahead with plans for common EU defence, which the SPD back, as well as plans to replace the unanimity vote on EU foreign policy with a majority vote of member states.
But the French president faces his own elections in April, which could further slow the Paris-Berlin engine of EU policymaking.
Mr Scholz will have to satisfy his new coalition partners, including the pro-business FDP, who are likely to resist a post pandemic push to loosen EU budget rules.
The Greens will demand tougher EU action on the rule of law in countries such as Poland and Hungary.
How and when Germany will form a new government
Meanwhile, Britain and Brussels remain on a collision course over Northern Ireland.
The EU refuses to renegotiate the Protocol and the UK threatens to override it by triggering Article 16, which Brussels says would break international law.
No EU leader, least of all a convinced pro-European new German Chancellor, will want to be seen to undermine EU unity in the face of Brexit.
Not least because he will at first be playing second fiddle to Mr Macron, who has become the EU’s most influential leader and is the least compromising on Brexit.
Most importantly the Protocol is seen as vital to protecting the integrity of the EU’s Single Market.
Like Mrs Merkel, Mr Scholz will put protecting that above any concern for the UK.