European media praise EU’s plan to counter UK’s Brexit ‘chaos’

EU’s seizing of initiative and avoidance of Theresa May’s ‘trap’ hailed by foreign press

El Pais
 El Pais said ‘being in negotiations with a prime minister who is unable to find a viable solution has hardened the position of most member states’. Photograph: El Pais

Europe’s media saw it only one way: faced with a fast-approaching cliff edge and chaos, confusion and vacuousness in London, the other members of the EU needed to take over the Brexit process and force the British government to face up to its choices – and they did.

“The dual-deadline mechanism agreed on in Brussels both ensures the British finally recognise Brexit is their responsibility, and obliges them to finally accept the consequences of their decision to seek a divorce,” said France’s Le Monde.

The aim was “to avoid May’s trap, which was either to blame the EU27 for a chaotic no-deal Brexit or shatter its unity and win an unconditional delay for Brexit”, it said. For the prime minister, made to wait hours for the bloc to decide her fate, her final EU summit was “a humiliating encounter”, it added.

If the plan seem “a little convoluted”, agreed Libération, “it represents a very subtle way of putting the ball firmly back in the UK’s court. The risk of no deal is still there, but the EU can no longer be accused of precipitating it.”

Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg “can put away their English sparkling wine and union jacks, because Independence Day is cancelled,” the paper added. “At least, for the time being.”

In Germany, Die Zeit said the EU27 had “firmly taken the lead in the Brexit chaos, and ruled out a disorderly Brexit – for the time being”. May’s “disappointing presentation” to the other 27 leaders, which failed to explain convincingly what she would do if MPs again rejected her deal, “obliged the EU to take over the job”, the paper said.

Despite a difference of opinion among some of the leaders over how much slack Britain should be cut, they wound up “agreeing on a common approach”. Their 19-line final communiqué may have taken hours to draft, but represented a “smart procedure for the coming weeks”.

In the Netherlands, De Volkskrant said May had “zero convincing answers to the question of why she needed the three-month delay she was asking for” and “could provide no clarity whatsoever on why MPs who had already rejected her deal twice, should now decide to accept it”.

Asked what she would do if it was voted down a third time, the prime minister could merely say that “the EU always finds a last-minute solution”, the paper said. “So, tormented by this vacuousness – on top of the frustration of nearly two years of Brexit negotiations – the 27 other leaders decided to put Britain on the spot.”

In Spain, El Pais said the plan “basically boiled down to a short extension with May, or a long extension without her”. The sensation of “being in negotiations with a prime minister who is unable to find a viable solution has hardened the position of most member states”, the paper said.

“The imaginative double offer achieves the goal of corralling May, and forcing a decision out of London in a much shorter time than expected, without explicitly interfering in British domestic politics. The weight of the dramatic decision to choose between a long extension or a brutal and chaotic Brexit falls squarely on London.”

In Poland, Gazeta Wyborcza said it was now “Brexit on 12 April without a deal, or on 22 May with a deal – it all depends on the House of Commons”. But the Irish Times warned that although the plan had put the ball back in the UK’s court for now, it had “effectively done no more than kick the can down the road for a few days”.

“The hard decisions will come if and when the Commons again votes down the withdrawal agreement in a third ‘meaningful vote’. No point crossing bridges before you come to them,” the paper said.

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