Image: Jos Collignon/Caglecartoons
by Philip Sime
The people with whom Theresa May will soon be negotiating over Brexit have been looking on in astonishment at her self-immolation. Here’s a selection of the media coverage on the continent.
Against all the odds, France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron, looks set to win an impressive majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections. So from chaos to stability – yet Britain has taken the reverse journey.
This juxtaposition is detected by France’s press. Le Monde seeks to predict how the new formation of the House of Commons will impact the upcoming Brexit negotiations. The centre-left newspaper suggests that Theresa May’s government will be held hostage by the ‘ultra-conservative’ and ‘Europhobic’ DUP and its ‘dubious financial practices’. This precarious arrangement will destabilise Northern Ireland, the paper says, as the UK Government will no longer be viewed as an impartial actor in the peace process. Le Monde suggests that Theresa May’s minority government will also be held hostage by the Conservative Party’s Brexiteers who, it is thought, will force the Prime Minister to pursue the hardest of Brexits.
Libération quotes a high-ranking French diplomat who believes that the new political reality means that Theresa May will approach negotiations with the EU from ‘a position of very great weakness’. Indeed, the newspaper suggests that Labour’s increased vote share is an indication that the British public does not want to become a tax haven on the shores of Europe, thus demolishing one of Theresa May’s principal negotiating positions. It does seem that senior figures in Brussels have become even more scathing of Theresa May. Libération quotes the chairman of the European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament, who says that Theresa May has ‘brought chaos to her country’.
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) June 9, 2017
The liberal, pro-business publication, L’Opinion, draws comparisons between the ‘astonishing unity’ of 27 EU member states, who have unanimously adopted a negotiating position and the UK which, almost a year after the Brexit vote, has failed to determine a strategy. Reflecting on Britain’s new political reality, Libération suggests that the future of the UK ‘became a little darker on Thursday’.
Although there may have been some schadenfreude in Europe when Theresa May’s electoral gamble backfired, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warns that there is ‘no reason to cheer’. The newspaper suggests that the lack of a large Commons majority means that the UK Government will struggle to make concessions during the negotiation.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also indicates that the Article 50 deadline could be extended in order to give the UK time to organise itself ahead of negotiations. However, this would require the agreement of the remaining 27 EU member states and the newspaper warns that the UK could pay a high price as there would be a ‘great deal of scope’ for political bargaining.
British voters are branded as ‘highly insecure, angry, upset’ and the country described as ‘torn and threatened by Islamic terror’. In light of this, the newspaper says the country desperately needs a ‘strong, determined government’, which now seems very unlikely.
In a similar vein, Der Tagesspiegel raises concerns over a disorderly British withdrawal from the EU, warning that such an eventuality would be a ‘disaster’ for European companies which trade with the UK.
Nevertheless, the liberal daily goes on to paint a more optimistic picture, suggesting that the possibility of a transitional agreement between the UK and the EU will “increase with time pressure”. This would mean that the four freedoms of the single market would remain in force for the foreseeable future, thus preventing what has been termed ‘cliff-edge Brexit’.
The German tabloid, Bild, is less optimistic. It suggests that a future outside the EU is becoming ‘increasingly unattractive’ as London comes to terms with the ‘madman’ which is now at the helm of the UK’s closest ally.
The paper suggests that Margaret Thatcher ‘would have put her handbag on the table in Brussels until there is a tailor-made deal for the UK’. However, such a vision is described by the newspaper as ‘just beautiful memories’. ‘From Cool Britannia to Poor Britannia’, the newspaper says the UK has become a country that is ‘stumbling over its own decisions’.
Meanwhile, Germany’s socialist candidate for the chancellery has congratulated Jeremy Corbyn on his electoral performance.
— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) June 9, 2017
Just talked to Jeremy Corbyn on the phone. We agreed to meet very soon.
— Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) June 9, 2017
Norway is a non-EU nation which has secured tariff-free access to the EU single market through the European Economic Area. It is often cited by Scottish nationalists as a model on which an independent Scotland would be based.
However, Norway’s Aftenposten suggests that Theresa May can take solace in the electoral earthquake in Scotland which cost the SNP a third of its seats and has almost certainly killed off any prospect of a second referendum on independence. The newspaper says Nicola Sturgeon has, over recent months, focused on securing Scottish independence rather than concentrating her efforts on ‘the everyday life of Scots’.
Aftenposten’s Per Edgar Kokkvold suggests that the British Union is now more secure thanks to the new seats secured by the Scottish Conservatives under the leadership of ‘charismatic’ Ruth Davidson.
So someone in Britain is doing something right. But as for Theresa May, the woman who asked Brits to give her a bigger mandate the better to sock it to her opponents? As today’s papers show, she is already a figure of ridicule on the continent.