Former Volvo Vice-President Garry Rowley told express.co.uk that exporters based inside the EU will push for a “pragmatic and frictionless” solution to customs and trade beyond 2019.
He said European companies are desperate for their leaders to secure a “smooth, equitable” Brexit agreement to protect the huge volume of trade they do with the UK.
And he described the deadlocked talks as a “time bomb that will ultimately have to be defused”, saying uncertainty would lead business on both sides of the Channel to take “conservative investment decisions”.
Mr Rowley, a twenty year veteran of Brussels who worked for the Swedish giant’s construction arm, made the comments in an interview with express.co.uk about the impacts of Brexit.
He said that both sides will lose out if Britain and the EU fail to secure a good trade deal, but also warned UK leaders that they cannot expect European businesses to risk the integrity of the Single Market.
Some prominent Brexiteers have expressed hopes that German car manufacturers in particular will pile pressure on Angela Merkel to soften the bloc’s stance and seek out a comprehensive accord.
Angela Merkel could come under pressure from German car firms over Brexit
Mr Rowley said such businesses are “the major beneficiaries” of the Single Market but will also be desperate to ensure that Brexit does not imperil the EU’s £70 billion trade surplus with Britain.
He said: “If it goes badly, both Britain and the EU lose. Uncertainty merely duplicates uncertainty. If businesses can’t plan they take conservative investment decisions.
“It should be civilised. If either side takes a wildly intransigent position, that’s a time bomb that will ultimately have to be defused. Time will be lost, time will be wasted.”
He added: “Of course businesses have an influence. It’s they that creates jobs and grow the economy. But they’re obviously not going to go against the EU project, nor would it be politically possible to do so.
“Business will be looking for pragmatic and frictionless outcomes post Brexit. Big companies are like big ships, once set on a course it takes time and effort to completely change direction, they wish to avoid the friction of change wherever possible, they are looking for certainty.
“It boils down to interests. If you look at the figures for the European trade in the UK it’s huge. In simple terms EU businesses want a smooth, equitable business deal.”
In simple terms EU businesses want a smooth, equitable business deal
His remarks came after a prominent Swiss businessman predicted that European leaders’ political priorities will ultimately become “secondary” to commercial interests over Brexit.
Hannes Boner, the Vice-President of paper and packaging giant Sappi Europe, told an event in Brussels it would be impossible for the EU to “erect customs borders overnight” in the event of a no-deal scenario.
He said: “Ultimately the intellectual idea behind some trade flows and services is actually secondary. It has to work because it makes our profits, it makes the turnover and that helps us employ people.
“The one thing that worries us in the business community a lot is that time is being wasted because the negotiations are taking place.
“They have their own dynamics, we know how haggling is done here in Brussels, the difference is here we have an Article 50 with a strange deadline that ticks away.
“You cannot have customs borders erected overnight just because you find out in 2019 that the damn thing doesn’t work and that’s what worries us in the business community.”
Ukip MEP Jonathan Bullock told express.co.uk: “In order to give businesses the certainty they are after trade talks have to be started before Christmas. Otherwise, we should plan for no deal.
“If the EU do take an intransigent position in the talks we should simply walk and refer to WTO rules which will have a level of certainty business needs. We should not be held hostage.”
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Meanwhile, Tory MEP Syed Kamall revealed to express.co.uk that European leaders have already admitted to him privately they will soften their position on trade if Brexit starts to threaten exporters.
The prominent euro MP, who leads the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping in the EU Parliament, said national capitals are even prepared to “break the unity of the 27” to protect trade.
He said: “When I speak to ministers and actually prime ministers as well, I say to them guys are you really serious about this sequencing, surely you want to talk about trade?
“You’ve got exporters selling to the UK, you buy stuff from the UK, are you really prepared to just sort of do the sequencing and leave no time for trade talks?
“They say to me look, we will preserve the unity of the EU27 as long as possible but if it starts getting to a stage that we feel that our exporters can no longer sell to the UK, we’ll break the unity of the 27.
“We may not do it publicly but we will put pressure on to move onto trade talks. I now know there are ministers and prime ministers who are saying for goodness sake, we’ve got to talk about trade.”