Brexit: ‘The greatest seppuku of a single nation in living memory’

13 February 2017 – VoxEurop

British MPs have voted to approve a law authorising the government to begin the process of leaving the European Union. It comes after PM Theresa May presented a white paper setting out her strategy for the divorce between London and the EU.

European commentators observe that Brexit now seems irreversible, and they regret the quality of the debate and the attitude of the UK’s political actors.

“With Parliament’s vote to authorise the government to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon, the UK’s departure from the Union seems irreversible,” Bart Eekhout observes. For De Morgen's columnist:


Brexit expresses the sovereign will of the people, and it is democratic to respect it. But the choice is risky from an institutional perspective [...] and it will make the UK economically weak, because it will practically become a geographical and economic island. That is why it is surprising that in Belgium and many other EU countries people are responding with such tenderness to this kamikaze plan. It is London that is taking the risk and London that wants the hardest possible Brexit by leaving the single market and open borders. But we seem to be begging London to soften its approach a little.

After months of silence, Theresa May has succeeded in imposing her Brexit strategy on Parliament. But even though her white paper contains concrete propositions, it has been drawn up “too quickly and is riddled with errors”, argues Imke Henkel. That is why the Zeit columnist judges that “the UK urgently needs a constructive debate.” But instead of that, MPs have been powerless against this situation:


In the 77 pages of the white paper, the government explains its strategy for Brexit. It would like the separation from the EU to happen without a hitch and a Brexit that is not too hard. Its authors claim it would be in the interest of both parties to put in place ‘a new strategic partnership’. They also mention an ambitious free trade deal and a new customs agreement. This white paper is not only premature and riddled with errors, it is above all a testament to deep intellectual and linguistic confusion. One wonders how the government can continue to establish a ‘national consensus’ when the country is completely divided. [...] A government that trusts its people would have given its representatives the time to study and discuss its project for the future of the country at lenght. However, the show put on in the British parliament was a mere mascarade of democracy that MPs dealt with stoically.

Dziennik Gazeta Prawna publishes statistics on Poles wanting to seek work abroad: “207,000 people were likely to move to another European country in the third quarter of 2016, or 20% less than the previous quarter. Brexit was one of the principle reasons for this drop.” The UK is indeed the primary destination for Poles and they represent the country’s largest foreign minority. The newspaper claims,


just after the EU referendum, animosity towards immigrants was reinforced and attacks on Poles became more frequent. People began distributing literature urging our countrymen to go back home, which had ramifications within Poland. After the numerous terror attacks in western Europe, Poles no longer consider it to be safe.

El País uses its editorial to criticise the white paper presented this week by British PM Theresa May, which provides details on the UK’s exit from the European Union and is “a hollow exercise in rhetoric and propaganda”. For the daily, May,


may use a ‘Churchillian’ discourse if she wishes, in which she depicts the UK as a great open, global power, but that does not exonerate her of her obligation to precisely guide a process that a significant segment of her country’s population has very reasonable doubts about. [The British government must clarify] two fundamental aspects: first, trade and investment agreements between the EU and the UK, which are crucial for both parties, must be protected from political agitation resulting from the separation process. Luckily, the EU has the advantage here: while May may have run to Washington to ask for Donald Trump’s support, the US has been veering towards protectionism. Secondly, the legal status of around 2.8 million EU citizens are legally living in the UK and must not see their rights violated. [...] The white paper is a major disappointment. European and British citizens are still waiting for answers.

“If the UK is discovering that it is not as ‘great’ as the claims from rhetoric and demagogy, the events of the past seven months are the prologue to the greatest seppuku of a single nation in living memory. There are many of us who have long suspected as much, following consistent economic analyses or clear political intuitions,” writes Leonard Maisano. According to Il Sole 24 Ore London correspondent,


the most unnerving aspect of current British politics is the contradiction between the ultraliberal approach conceived as the response to Brexit and the very socially committed proclamations made by Theresa May from the very day she took power. Her political project is clear: trying to converge populists on the right and left around a programme marked with the moderate seal of the archetypal centrist party, the Conservatives, who have suddenly become both ecumenical and paternalistic. It is hard to see how this could happen if London actually entrenches the liberal economic model it has followed up to now. [...] Doubts remain regarding the assertive performances from May and her ministers in the past few days, which contained hefty doses of posturing in view of the negotiations with the EU, in order to show to the world she does not have her back to the wall. It is one more sign of the chaotic transition London knows it has imposed on itself.

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