13 March 2019

On 12 March the House of Commons rejected the Government’s Brexit deal once again, after Prime Minister Theresa May tried to seek further assurances from the EU on the issue of the Northern Irish backstop.

The result of the vote was met with regret, confusion and worry on the other side of the Channel. It was called a “disaster” by European People’s Party (EPP) group leader Manfred Weber, and a “humiliation” by most of the European press.

Just as after the first meaningful vote, EU and member states officials were united in their message: the solution to the Brexit impasse must come from London.

The EU is now actively discussing the prospect of an Article 50 extension, as it looks likely that the UK Parliament will vote to request a delay on 14 March. At the moment, the EU27 have different opinions on how long a delay should be, but importantly, they all are awaiting a clear reason for why to grant such an extension.

In the European Parliament (EP), attitudes about extensions were more negative, out of fear that Brexit might take over other important issues ahead of the European elections in May. The EP’s Brexit Co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said that extending risks that “we will only speak about Brexit.”

 

Meanwhile, the European press also reacted with dismay and pessimism, as the overview below shows.

France🇫🇷

An editorial in French daily Le Monde argues that the EU27 “are not responsible for the wounds that the British have inflicted to themselves, nor for the incapacity of the government in London to understand what is happening beyond the Channel,” adding,

It us up to British to assume the consequences of Brexit… and to other member states to admit the appalling reality without trying to retain a partner which is still appreciated, but who decided to remake its life.

Centre-right daily Le Figaro quotes EU officials saying that there was “a lot of resentment in Brussels” following the vote. The paper notes that May’s defeat has made the EU “annoyed” and has created even more uncertainty about the steps forward.

Daily Le Parisien calls this a “humiliating defeat” for the Prime Minister, and the fact that she has “lost her voice” shows her fragility.

Germany 🇩🇪

An op-ed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled “Why the Brexit deal with the EU is not dead yet,” says, “How and when the Brexit drama will be over remains unclear,” and adds, “Since renegotiation is unlikely… a No Deal Brexit would – like a second referendum – deepen the division in society and an extension of the withdrawal period would be nothing more than an extension of misery, it cannot be ruled out that the twice-failed agreement will rise again in an hour of even greater need.”

The Süddeutsche Zeitung argues that May “could not explain what her deal stands for,” explaining that “the backstop solution has become a kind of fetish for Brexit hardliners. But May did not even arrive with good arguments.”

Deutsche Welle states, “It now seems clear that while May is in office, she is no longer in power. But according to the motto that those who are said to be dead in politics live longer, May will remain in office until her party is clear about her successor… It might take weeks or even months – until then Theresa May can go on indomitable and relentless.”

“One could now judge that May has failed, her policy is finished and she has to resign. But is that true?” writes Die Zeit, adding,

May can always say that she has fought to the point of exhaustion for a relatively hard Brexit, but the parliament was just against it. Now comes the softer Brexit version.

Belgium 🇧🇪

French-language daily L’Écho runs an editorial named “May’s Brexit, or the death of a chimera,” asking whether the Prime Minister still has enough credibility to ask the European Council for an alternative. It adds that this defeat could mean a new General Election, but “how could the EU27 consider this reshuffling of the cards as a perspective which could stabilise Brexit?” adding, “A delay for a second referendum would be more acceptable.”

Meanwhile, Le Soir asks whether the UK itself wants help from the EU, warning, “This British masquerade has gone on long enough. The EU must decide if it wants to continue letting itself be led along.”

Dutch-language Belgian daily De Tijd argues there now is “complete chaos,” noting “how many public humiliations can PM May still handle?”

Italy 🇮🇹

Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera argues, “In normal circumstances, any head of government would have resigned…But the times in which we find ourselves are no longer normal.”

An op-ed in Il Foglio calls the Prime Minister “Brave Theresa May,” while the Italian HuffPost calls the Brexit process a “an infinite game.”

Separately, Il Messaggero writes that the UK has “arrived to a vicious circle from which it  does not know how to exit,” while May “continues to gamble without substantially changing strategy.” The paper predicts that in order to gain support for her deal, May will have to make a “soft compromise, far from the wishes of the Brexiteers.”

Ireland 🇮🇪

An editorial in the Irish Independent argues, “Any delay to shambles of Brexit must be meaningful,” adding, “A referendum or a confirmation vote may… be necessary to convince Brussels something concrete is on the table for a delay to be constructive.”

Elsewhere, The Irish Times editorial calls the situation “Indecision and political paralysis,” warning, “This extraordinary lack of political leadership has now created enormous uncertainty and risk. The path to an organised and planned exit based on an agreement between the UK and EU is now far from clear.”

Austria 🇦🇹

Austrian daily Der Standard says, “The fact that the seventh largest economy in the world might go for a No Deal Brexit is primarily due to the irresponsibility of some Brexit fanatics…Now it’s all about averting the chaos. This requires an extension of Brexit negotiations. “

Die Presse notes, “Despite all the EU’s concessions, May was unable to retune the hardliners in their own ranks, nor find proponents in the opposition and moderate centre of their own party.”

Spain 🇪🇸

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez wrote an op-ed in El Pais, arguing that the clear priority of the Spanish government during this Brexit process has been to offer certainty and security, especially to citizens and economic actors. He said that “to reach this Brexit agreement, the 27 member states gave their maximum effort and flexibility,” but “lamentably, when instransigent nationalism monopolises the debate, any concession or pact is interpreted as treason.”

Another El Pais article runs with the headline, “The second defeat of May’s deal paves the way for an extension.”

Elsewhere, El Mundo notes, “Great Britain is the European state where populism has had the most corrosive effect on establishment parties.”

Netherlands 🇳🇱

Dutch paper De Volkskrant commented, “Since the Prime Minister could only manage to convince 40 MPs after two months of negotiating, including former Brexit Secretary David Davis, [this] is a terrible indictment of her strategy.”

Denmark 🇩🇰

Danish tabloid B.T. noted that “Brexit defeat will be very costly for Denmark,” while news organisation Altinget reported, “Danish politicians are deeply concerned over the Brexit chaos in London.”

Sweden 🇸🇪

In the Swedish broadcaster SVT Nyheter, the situation in UK politics were described as “chaotic,” adding,

It is a political crisis and no one has a clue of how or if it [Brexit] will happen.

Elsewhere, daily Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter asked, “Will Theresa May remain Prime Minister after this?”

Bulgaria 🇧🇬

Bulgarian daily Duma describes the vote as “another failure” in the UK Parliament, while the news site Dnevnik focuses on the uncertainty resulting from the second meaningful vote.

Poland 🇵🇱

Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza argues that May’s defeat “weakens her position” and makes a Brexit delay “highly likely,” adding that “another spectacular fiasco” could make it harder for the Prime Minister, who already has less room for manoeuvre.