Europe: The increasingly bitter battle over Brexit
Are we living in Groundhog Day▪ asked Holger Romann in Tagesschau .de (Germany). The third round of talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union have just concluded, and once again, little if any progress has been made. David Davis, the U.K.’s chief negotiator, and Michel Barnier, negotiator from the EU, have dolefully trudged before the cameras to say they will continue trying. Reporters who cover the process have actually drawn up cards so they can play “Brexit Bingo,” with squares for platitudes like “We need clarity” and “The clock is ticking.” Alas, Brexit is not a comedy, and it is not a game. At stake are peace in Northern Ireland, the fate of the 3 million EU citizens who live in Britain, and the European financial system, which is largely undergirded by banks based in London. The trade in goods and services between the U.K. and the Continent is worth more than $800 billion a year. The deadline for Brexit completion is March 2019, and so far literally nothing has been agreed upon. No wonder those at EU headquarters in Brussels “are losing their patience.”
The British are utterly deluded, said Michael Krätke in Der Freitag (Germany). They insist they won’t tolerate the free movement of labor from the EU into a post-Brexit U.K., yet they still demand access to the EU’s free market. The British are acting as if they have the upper hand and don’t have to concede a thing, when in reality they are the ones breaking the pact and must therefore bear the costs. It’s a cultural impasse: British elites have been taught to value “Oxbridge rhetorical skill,” so the U.K. negotiators “think they can talk their way out of any problem.” European elites, meanwhile, value competence and bureaucratic expertise, and want solid answers.
The intransigence is entirely the fault of that “Gallic popinjay,” the EU negotiator Barnier, said Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail (U.K.). The vain, combative Frenchman has hated Britain ever since 2005, when he was French foreign minister and Britain strong-armed France into putting his beloved new EU constitution up to a popular vote, which it lost. He can’t hide his “visceral disdain for British values”—he sneers the term “Anglo-Saxon” as if it were a slur. It’s like negotiating with a toddler, said Janet Daley in The Telegraph (U.K.). The EU is demanding “an outrageous exit payment” of as much as 60 billion euros before it will even start trade talks. Yet faced with “a meticulous, point-by-point refutation” of the legal argument for such a payment, Barnier simply throws a tantrum.
Such hardball tactics may well work, said Simon Jenkins in The Guardian (U.K.). EU negotiators know that if 2019 arrives without a deal, the resulting trade stoppage would be “a nuisance for the EU, but chaotic for the U.K.” So, yes, “at this stage, the EU is blackmailing Britain.” But there’s nothing we can do. “Britain asked for it.” ■