16 January 2019

Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a historic defeat in the House of Commons on January 15, as 432 MPs voted against the Brexit deal she agreed with the EU, with 202 MPs voting for the agreement.

This was followed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling for a vote of no confidence in the government, and May promising to come back with a ‘plan B’ statement after holding cross-party talks on the steps ahead.

Immediately after the vote politicians and officials from the European Union and EU27 member states issued reactions, mostly expressing their regret, but also confirming that the ball is now in the UK’s court to come up with a future solution to the impasse.

Here is how events in the UK were seen across the Channel.


Reactions from politicians and leaders

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker issued an immediate warning to the UK, saying,

The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote….I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up.

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called the situation a “standstill,” adding, “Until we have found a way forward which will see a full majority we won’t be able to move forward, so this is why the future steps must be indicated very clearly … by the British government.”

European Council President Donald Tusk commented:

Along the same lines, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, wrote:

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez noted that the UK leaving without a deal would be “negative for the EU but catastrophic for the UK,”  however, the Dutch Prime Minister seemed more optimistic:

Elsewhere, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz suggested there could be further talks to “define certain points” on the future UK-EU relationship, but stressed, “What we now expect from Britain is clarity over which scenario they want, what they see as an option to avoid a disorderly Brexit.” The same message was repeated by French President Emmanuel Macron, the Irish government, the Italian government, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called the events “a bitter day for Europe,” while Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania, which currently holds the EU Council Presidency, wrote:



Reactions from the press

Meanwhile, the European press is not holding back in its critical assessment of UK domestic politics. Despite predicting a victory for the Government in the no confidence motion vote, comments are overwhelmingly pessimistic, predicting a chaotic future for Brexit and further uncertainty.

France 🇫🇷

French daily Le Monde describes the situation as “A Brexit put into question, a Prime Minister living on borrowed time, a country in suspense.” It adds, “The shock of Theresa May’s debacle is such that it produces a situation where anything is possible, for the best or for the worst…”

News magazine L’Obs summarises the dilemma saying there are “few scenarios on the table, except a delay of Brexit,” adding at the end, “Good luck, friends!”

Elsewhere, Libération says Theresa May is “disavowed”  and that the vote “had plunged the country into uncertainty.”



An editorial in The Irish Times argues for a second referendum, saying, “Holding a second referendum is the clearest way to establish the will of the British people now that the real consequences of Brexit and the choices it creates are becoming clear. The other EU members would surely agree to extend the UK’s departure date under article 50 to allow this to happen.”

The Irish Independent notes, “It is now even more increasingly likely that some form of delay in the Brexit deadline will happen…But Brussels will look askance if the MPs continue to frame wishlists adrift from an already done deal.”


Germany 🇩🇪

The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes, “At least one thing is certain: the Withdrawal Agreement can no longer be saved in its present form. British MPs rejected the Brexit deal too clearly and small concessions from the EU will probably not be enough to get the MPs to vote for it…There is at least a basic consensus that a No Deal should be avoided. However, it is not enough to only have a majority opposing No Deal, since if MPs fail to find an alternative, then No Deal is the default scenario.”

A commentary in weekly Der Spiegel  strikes a note of optimism, arguing, “Many are deeply insecure and worried after the rejection of the Brexit agreement by the British Parliament, but this decision is by far not as negative as many perceive it and one can be cautiously hopeful. A No Deal Brexit on the 29th of March is becoming unlikely and the scenario of a postponement of the withdrawal date to strike individual agreements for a transitional period is more likely…The costs of a hard Brexit are probably overestimated, at least for Germany and other European countries. “

According to an op-ed in Die Welt, “There are many options ahead for the British, but stability is not one of them. Further turmoil is predicted and consensus, which all eagerly hoped for, cannot be found among the Tories or in the parliament or the country, not even in broad outlines of what is to be done.”



Austrian Daily Die Presse looks at the possible options ahead, noting, “What are the alternatives for May? Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, when he has no plan for Brexit? No. A No Deal Brexit? Probably not. A renewed referendum on whether to implement this deal with the EU or whether the country prefers to remain in the Union seems the only way out.”

Meanwhile, Der Standard sees two options for Theresa May: either resign and make way for another leader of the Conservative party, or go back on her plan and include the option of a customs union.



The Swiss German-speaking daily Tagesanzeiger notes, “May has known for a long time that she did not speak for a majority in her own party or in the House of Commons. She avoided building bridges with Tories or moderate Labour MPs and wasted valuable time.”

Geneva-based Le Temps publishes an op-ed with the headline “For Theresa May, a return to the starting point.” While predicting a victory for the government in the confidence motion vote, it notes that May’s overall position has been weakened “by this new psychodrama” and that “the best of intentions are not enough to bring positions together, as they are so far apart.”



Spanish national daily El Pais writes, “Postponing Brexit until the summer can contaminate the European elections in May, but it remains a technical delay since the Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated.”

Another article in El Pais notes, “It could seem like a decisive defeat, given the enormous size of the parliamentary defeat Theresa May suffered, but it is not. To the misfortune of the British, and perhaps also the Europeans, this Tuesday was a historic day that does not preclude more historic days.” It adds,

Brexit is still alive, sustained by uncertainty, bitterness and rancour – the three feelings that May evoked in her defeat speech, and the three evil spirits that only grow every day that Brexit remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, using the headline “A Disunited Kingdom,” the daily El Mundo analyses, “In the Kingdom disunited by Brexit, no political party has the support necessary to carry forward their plan and no side seems ready to reach a compromise to avoid elections.”



Italian daily La Repubblica calls the UK “an island adrift” where “anything is possible.”

Elsewhere, Il Manifesto says “Brexit is in the dark,” while “the Government is in tilt.” It adds that it has been a “fatal night” for May, who, according to the paper, “has made matters worse with her extremist interpretation of the referendum’s results.”

Italian Huffington Post says May is “condemned to resist,” noting that despite all Brexit options being uncertain,

She remains in Downing Street, looking to find a solution for the national interest. But what this national interest means is unclear.


On Dutch public TV NOS, an analyst commented, “This is worse than the most pessimistic predictions…After this vote it looks like the British have sunk even deeper in the Brexit crisis.”

In De Telegraaf, Dutch employer federation VNO-NCW called for Prime Minister Rutte to act in order to prevent the “chaos of a No Deal Brexit.”



Belgian daily De Standaard comments, “It becomes much more difficult to come up with a plan B for Brexit. [May] must do that by Monday. Nobody believes May is the right person to come up with an alternative and to get it passed. She has lost all her credit.” Meanwhile, De Morgen argues that for now, “Concessions from the EU do not make sense” because the UK Parliament does not know what it wants.

French-speaking daily L’Echo warns about the “spectrum of a No Deal Brexit” and reports about the Belgian government’s preparations for No Deal, which have been taking place recently. Elsewhere, Le Soir notes Brexit is now in an impasse “more than ever.”


Greece 🇬🇷

Greek centre-right newspaper Capital says “Britain does not have a Brexit compass” and adds, “After such an enormous defeat, May’s premiership and her Brexit deal have been politically cancelled. The decision to use the pressure of the clock running down to No Deal as a way to convince MPs to vote for her deal proved equally flawed as calling a general election in 2017, where the Conservatives lost their majority government. The ability of those in power to predict and plan seems to have been lost.”


Bulgaria 🇧🇬

Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovatchev is quoted in Bulgarian daily newspaper Trud, describing the vote as a “catastrophe,” adding that while it is not a good result for the EU, it is much worse for the UK.

Elsewhere, newspaper Standart says it is a “crash for May,” leading to a “catastrophic Brexit.”


Portugal 🇵🇹

A morning newsletter from L’Expresso predicts the departure of Theresa May, arguing that sooner or later, “Brexit may result in Mayxit.” It also notes that the Portuguese government has launched concrete contingency No Deal preparations.

Elsewhere, an op-ed in Público says Brexit is a “strange way to take back control,” calling it “an English post-imperial hangover.”