11 April 2019

At a special European Council summit on 10 April, the UK and EU27 agreed to delay Brexit once again, this time until 31 October, or until the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified. This means the UK will have to participate in European Parliament elections, or leave the EU on 1 June if it does not hold these elections.

While most EU leaders branded this ‘flexible’ extension a sensible compromise and solution to avoid a No Deal scenario, they also expect the UK to use this time wisely in order to reach agreement in the House of Commons.

For instance, European Council President Donald Tusk said,

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat commented,

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the extension was

A chance to overcome the ratification crises in UK. It is now up to UK to take this opportunity.

The European press, however, is not as optimistic about the prospects of any progress before 31 October. Beyond the Halloween references, the general feeling is one of ‘Brexit fatigue’ and weariness about the UK’s departure taking time from other topics. Below is an overview of European press reactions to the new Brexit delay, and to what awaits Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK, as well as the EU27.

France

French daily Le Monde comments that heads of state and government ended negotiations in the European Council with a “typical European compromise: they cut the pumpkin in half.” It notes, “The real question now is to know whether Brexit will really take place one day.”

Much of French press coverage focused on analysing President Emmanuel Macron’s hard-line position on the delay, as he seemed to be one of the few opposed to a longer extension. An article in Le Figaro quotes a French diplomat as saying, “France is one of the states with the most ambitions for the EU, it is logical that it is one of the most vigilant when it comes to Brexit not weakening the Union.” The article notes that Macron did not want to be isolated in effectively calling for a short extension which could lead to No Deal, as this isolation would be “affirming Germany’s dominant position in Europe, in both economic and political terms.”

French paper Libération argues that Theresa May received the extension “at the cost of exporting the British conflict to Brussels,” as “the united front of EU leaders has exploded… This summit broke to pieces the united European front which held together, for better or for worse, for three years.”

 

Germany

Der Spiegel writes, “Whether the time is enough for the British to finally agree on something is by no means certain… [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel also does not seem sure that the new date is the last Brexit cliff edge when she says that, ‘On October 31 we discuss this situation again.’”

Elsewhere, business paper Handelsblatt compiles a list of benefits and disadvantages of the extension until October, saying that positives are putting hardliners in the European Research Group (ERG) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) under pressure and allowing for a cross-party agreement to take place. However, the negatives remain that if Prime Minister Theresa May leaves office, a Brexit hardliner could become her successor and try to obstruct the EU’s policies.

Austria

Austrian daily Die Presse notes that this “Brexit solution is built on sand,” adding, “The chances of the Government finding an agreement with the Labour Party are slim. Tories and Labour traditionally have had no political overlap that enables them to compromise…The fact that Britain’s political system is based on confrontation becomes clear during a visit to London’s parliament.”

 

Ireland

An opinion piece in the Irish Independent argues, “’Flextension’ may be an atrocious word but it beats ‘No Deal crash-out’,” adding that,

Most member states, including the UK, would take a significant economic hit in a No Deal scenario. Ireland would take a worse hit than any of them. The EU would also risk taking the blame which rightly belongs in London.

Meanwhile, The Irish Times analysis looks at the implications of the delay for UK domestic politics. It notes, “The six-month article 50 extension agreed by EU leaders is too long to increase pressure on MPs to ratify the withdrawal agreement quickly and too short for a major political change in Britain. It does, however, offer the Conservative party enough time to elect a new leader and an enhanced incentive to push Theresa May out of Downing Street.”

 

Italy

An editorial in Il Foglio uses the headline “ (European) unity makes strength,” warning,

If London bets on EU divisions it commits another grave error.

 

Separately, Il Sole 24 Ore interprets the Council conclusions as expecting the EU 27 to “meet with the European Commission to discuss the future of the Union without London,” even if the UK stays a member for a longer period of time.

Netherlands

Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad notes that while the extension agreed is a compromise for EU leaders, they are still in a challenging position, as “with the prospect of the European Parliament elections in May, the EU does not want to be seen as the bad guy who is dropping the UK into misery.”

De Volkskrant comments, “Many EU leaders looked like they are suffering from Brexit fatigue,” and “want to avoid a raw divorce,” further highlighting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s remarks that October 31 must be the end of the delay.

 

Belgium

French-language Belgian newspaper L’Echo calls Brexit a political “black hole,” noting that EU leaders looked exhausted by the topic, which takes away energy from other crucial issues and EU reforms.

Meanwhile, the Flemish Gazet van Antwerpen argues that the delay proves that “one thing is worse than Europe: no Europe” and,

There seems to be no end to the tragicomical soap Brexit has become.

Spain

According to El Pais, the battle “is far from being over.” The paper adds, “For the first time since the Brexit referendum, France and Germany had very different outlooks on the future and even though they eventually agreed, the rift between Paris and Berlin is becoming more evident.”

Portugal

Portuguese newspaper Expresso argues, “It is certainly not a factor considered by the EU27, but the decision to grant a 6 month extension does not make life easier for those in the Conservative Party who want to replace May. If May was toppled internally, the process of electing a successor would take a few weeks, leaving little time for the eventual renegotiation of the exit process or even calling early elections and getting a popular mandate for any new path.”

Poland

A report from the summit on Wirtualna Polska states that this Council meeting “showed once again that Britain is pulling the strings…Nobody cares that much about the so-called hard Brexit option. However, the seemingly endless process of UK leaving the EU shows that the EU has not lost patience with this country.”

Sweden

Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet warns,

There is a risk that Brexit will haunt the EU and UK all the way to Halloween.

The paper adds, “A hard pressed May had asked for an extension until at least the 30 of June, although, most of all she would have wanted to leave the EU earlier and in doing so, also avoiding having EU elections at the end of May, for which the UK has now started to prepare.”

Denmark

Altinget quotes Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen as saying, “We have told the UK that now they have until October to find a way out the way they want. It is a compromise in our own ranks between those who would not give them anything and us who think they should have had all the time in the world.” He added that as the UK “is a country on its way out… We have the expectation that they keep a low profile” in decisions on the future of the EU.

Cyprus

Cypriot daily newspaper Phileleftheros argues, “France, like all other member states are tired of uncertainty. Delaying Brexit must finally be over to allow the EU to focus on the serious issues it is facing.”