Brexit seen from Europe: Eyes on the UK

30 August 2017 – VoxEurop

What are major Continental European newspapers and news websites saying on Britain’s path towards leaving the European Union? Check out our regularly updated digest. The latest summaries are on top.

Updated on 7 September 2017

‘The British government is so desperate’

Die Welt, Berlin, 6 September

“The jubilation of the pro-Brexit side reveals the short-term goal of Prime minister Theresa May”, writes the daily’s London correspondent Stefanie Bolzen, after the Guardian was leaked an 82-pages draft document containing the Home Office immigration plan focused on “prioritising British workers” over “EU migrants”. Bolzen adds that the hardline stance signalled by the plan “will only intensify the Brexit dilemma: One one hand, it would inevitably “complicate the already harsh negotiations with Brussels, for whom the rights of EU citizens are the highest priority. Also, the plan is a shot in the knee”, as “the British won’t get a transitional phase if they want to drastically curtail the freedom of movement within the EU.” Bolzen adds that –

What is even more worrisome is the unemployment rate in Great Britain, which currently stands at 4.4 percent. The NHS is already on alert, because of the lack of immigrant nurses. Sector which are dependent on seasonal workers are also worried about staffing. The UK employers' association almost daily replied that its members are concerned because they do not find any British workers. The prospect of such drastic measures will further reduce the already slumping influx of EU foreigners. Eventually, the climate of insecurity could only damage the UK economy further and hit hardest those Theresa May claimed her politics were meant to favour.

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‘In Japan as in Brussels, the UK is bogging itself down in Brexit’

Le Monde, Paris, 1st September

“The United Kingdom is experiencing a hard return to Brexit’s reality on this end of summer. Almost simultaneously, on 31 August, Brexit secretary David Davis and Prime minister Theresa May came empty-handed from their trip abroad, respectively in Brussels and Tokyo”, writes Brussels’ correspondent Cécile Ducourtieux: “Although none of them has completely failed, and an agreement is still possible at some point, the process will be long and tortuous.” Regarding Japan’s position on Ms May’s trade partnership agreement proposal, Ducourtieux notes that “for the Japanese, the European market, which is far larger than the British one, is priority. No parallel talks with London will be held before every detail is settled with Brussels.” Eventually, “the British might realistically get at best the same conditions for their exports than the ones EU members already have.”

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‘There is still too much love around to finally set Brexit on track’

De Morgen, Brussels, 31 August

The EU and the UK are still too entangled to actually move on with their divorce, believes columnist Koen Vidal, although “it is not thinkable that negotiations could break off; that would mean a huge disregard for the referendum result.” But what if “the March 2019 deadline is exceeded? It looks like if the British are not considering it as a bad thing after all. On the contrary, a growing number of them are supporting slow and light reforms that could last for years and will not eventually lead to a separation, but to a new partnership agreement.” Meanwhile, EU leaders should not “waste time telling the Brits how silly they are and how they are clever themselves.”

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‘Built on lies’

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, 29 August 2017.

Journalist Alexander Menden takes aim at the legacy of Brexiteer-in-chief Boris Johnson, linking his penchant for architectural follies while Mayor of London with his willful disregard for the truth during the Brexit campaign. The failures of his time as Mayor – notably the taxpayer subsidised Arcelor Mittal Orbit, the ill-fated Garden Bridge, or the “kind of urban funfair” of luxury high-rises now dotted all along the Thames – are in keeping with a man who constructed “an expensive tower of lies, built on a foundation of ignorance, nostalgia and the desire for imperial grandeur” as part of his bid to persuade voters to leave the EU.

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‘London in search of a “soft Brexit”’

Le Figaro, Paris, 27 August 2017.

Writing after the release of a series of white papers setting out the UK government’s positions on some of the most contentious aspects of Brexit, Marina Daras, sees hope of more pragmatism in the negotiations. Regarding the UK’s softened stance on the European Court of Justice, she notes “the British have been forced to acknowledge it would be extremely difficult to negotiate commercial agreements with Europe without a system in place to resolve potential disputes.” Nevertheless she casts doubt on the success of this new, more constructive attitudes – since at the end of the day the UK still refuses to accept it can have the advantages of the single market without the perceived downsides.

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‘Tories, Europe and Brexit’s long summer’

Strade Online, Rome, 23 August 2017.

With the Conservative Party conference in Manchester closing in, Theresa May “fears that her internal rivals will take a chance to take her out. Brexiteers are still in the front row, with Boris Johnson in pole position”, followed by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg, “the poshissime son of a Times former editor, highly cultivated Eurosceptic and a social media idol”, writes political scientist Stefano Basilico. Even if Theresa May “survives Manchester’s Caudine Forks, the path she’d have to walk would be precarious, as the Brexit clock is inexorably ticking toward the end of barely started negotiations.”

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‘Brexit, or Theresa May’s descent into hell’

Les Echos, Paris, 17 August 2017.

The British government’s position paper on leaving the EU’s customs union – only to create a new, virtually identical transitional partnership – was greeted with disbelief in Brussels, writes European affairs specialist Patrick Martin-Genier, adding despairingly that “nobody understands what they want”. He urged realism over what negotiators could hope to achieve: “we must acknowledge that, with less than 600 days to reach a general agreement, no substantial progress has been made since article 50 was triggered. [...] And there’s worse to come. The government’s position is increasingly difficult to understand and it is not certain that Theresa May has the ability to survive the wave of opposition that is growing day by day, nor the anger brewing in the political, economic and social arenas.”

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‘Brexit: do you want it or not?’

Libération, Paris, 14 August 2017.

The Fench daily’s veteran Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer wonders what would happen if “like the Burghers of Calais, wearing nooses around their necks, the British beg for their re-admission to the European Union once Brexit is implemented?” Some do now believe that, “as soon as the political circumstances allow it, the UK will want to come back into the European family, as the economic and diplomatic consequences of Brexit look disastrous for it.”

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’Much better together’

El País, Madrid, 20 June 2017.

In a defiant editorial, the centre-left daily describes the first round of Brexit negotiations as “symbolic and fruitful”, although perhaps not in the way that the UK’s negotiating team would appreciate. “Symbolic in that the weight of 27 coordinated countries cannot but be superior to one alone: in a global world it is better to confront challenges united than fragmented. Fruitful because the European plan was implemented without too much of a fuss,” with discussions centering on the most important issues for the EU’s remaining members. It all goes to prove, the Madrid-daily concluded, that Europe is keeping its cool just as the UK has lost its marbles – but that, ultimately, “it is to be hoped that British politics ends up recovering its rationality” to avoid disaster.

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