‘Painful intrusion of reality’: European press view on possible Brexit delay – The Guardian

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After the chaos, contradictions and incompetence in the UK’s handling of Brexit, European media have spotted a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. On past form, of course, it will soon be extinguished, but the endgame seems – at least for now – to be approaching.

“At long last, MPs now have to decide where they stand,” said Die Zeit in Germany after the Commons voted in favour of a short extension to article 50 on Thursday evening, having earlier in the week rejected both Theresa May’s Brexit deal and no deal. “Empty promises to voters and pithy speeches in parliament will no longer cut it. The drama currently being played out in Westminster represents, at long last, the painful intrusion of reality into Britain’s Brexit debate.”

Party discipline had gone, arguments were mutating and majorities were switching, the paper said. “The real discussion about Brexit, the one that should have taken place over the past three years, is now under way and must be over in a matter of days. It is loud and it is painful, but it is bringing much-needed clarity.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reckoned the UK’s “battered prime minister may perhaps have slightly more reason for hope than before. Who knows, it could just be that the Brexit drama in London will come to an end soon after all.”

France’s Libération rejoiced that at long last one thing looked more or less likely: “Britain will not be leaving the EU on 29 March.” Except, it added, the country was traversing a period “so utterly extraordinary, so totally unprecedented, in which all the existing logic of votes and established political forces has been so completely overturned, that nothing, nothing at all, can any longer be predicted.”

May’s strategy was at least clear, Libération said: she would call a third vote on her deal next week, hoping to have convinced Brexiters by then that if they could not be satisfied with her Brexit, they would end up with a long delay and risk losing “the Holy Grail of their ideal Brexit – even if no one has yet conclusively shown that it actually exists”.

However, Le Monde warned that the “apparent bright spot” masked “a weakening of May’s authority that is alarming not just for her political survival but for the democratic functioning of the country”. She had “lost control of her party and cabinet to the extent that 188 Conservative MPs and eight ministers voted against the government’s motion to postpone Brexit”, the paper pointed out.

In Dublin, the Irish Times said that after the “chaos and humiliation of a double defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Theresa May had a relatively good day” on Thursday. But the paper’s commentator, Stephen Collins, was brutal on what the week’s events in Westminster had revealed.

The contrast between the behaviour of Ireland’s TDs and the “downright irresponsibility of a majority of their counterparts in the Commons” was the best possible way of commemorating a century of Irish democracy, Collins wrote. “The failure of the British government and opposition to come together at a time of great national peril indicates something is truly rotten in the state of politics in that country … The coming weeks will reveal whether the British political system can get its act together, but the evidence of the past two years is not encouraging.”

Helsingin Sanomat in Finland said Brexit was now driving “a full-blown British political crisis”. Neither May’s Conservative government nor parliament had “a clear picture of where Brexit might end up”, it said. “Brexit Day was supposed to be in two weeks. Now everything is still open.”

In Spain’s El País, the commentator Rafa de Miguel said the hardcore Brexiters were like “enraged children who despise any gift that is not the one they want”. Having twice rejected May’s deal, parliament was now completely confused: “Yes to Brexit but no to no deal; No to May’s plan but also to any other solution.”

In what amounted to a game of Russian roulette, the paper said, May had “the double merit of having irritated Eurosceptics by confronting their wild Brexit with reality, and the rest of the Commons by showing them that, however brilliant they are, none of their alternatives have a majority. Two weeks before Brexit, it will be interesting to see if British politicians opt for intelligence or complete collapse.”

In the Netherlands, De Volkskrant said preparations for May’s “third time lucky vote” were well under way, although it was by no means clear she would win it. “Some true hardline Brexiters would rather the government falls than that May’s deal passes,” it said. Its Dutch counterpart NRC Handelsblad said delaying Brexit “has bought time but remains far from a solution”.

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