Europe: EU rips up May’s Brexit plan
Britain’s Brexit negotiations have hurtled into an immovable wall, said Jochen Buchsteiner in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). At a meeting of European Union leaders in the Austrian city of Salzburg last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May presented her Brexit proposal, which envisions the U.K. and EU signing a special customs deal that avoids border checks on goods and fudges the Irish border issue. Donald Tusk, head of the EU Council, immediately pronounced the plan dead. “It will not work,” he said, because it undermines the EU’s single market, which requires the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. EU leaders offered the U.K. two options on post-Brexit relations: It could follow the Norway model, under which the U.K. would have access to the single market but no say in how it operates, or the Canadian model, and sign a free trade deal that would require a hard border and customs checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland, an EU member. May rejected both. If the two sides can’t agree on the terms of departure by next month, the U.K. might crash out of the union next March without a deal. The summit has left “a bitter aftertaste” all around.
French President Emmanuel Macron played Tusk’s heavy in Salzburg, said Anais Ginori in La Repubblica (Italy). Macron denounced as “liars” British politicians who campaigned for Brexit on the claim that leaving the EU would be easy and painless, and said the U.K. would have to suffer the consequences of its decision. These harsh words were intended not just for May, but also for Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, “and all the other leaders who want to dismantle the EU piece by piece.” His tactic was clear: “Hit one to teach 27.”
EU leaders are acting like “two-bit mobsters,” said The Sun (U.K.) in an editorial. Britain has worked hard to reach an agreement, but the EU has “refused to compromise.” Maltese and Czech leaders even told May she should hold a second referendum. That’s the same tactic the EU used in 1992, when Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty that created the modern EU, and in 2008, when Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty that reformed it. Both countries were instructed to vote again, until they got the correct result. This is why we want out of the EU club.
But a second referendum could save us, said Matthew d’Ancona in The Guardian (U.K.). A recent poll showed that 59 percent of Britons would opt to stay in the EU if given the choice today. May, of course, won’t hear of a do-over. But more than 170 of her Conservative parliamentarians supported the Remain campaign in 2016, and if just 20 of them broke ranks and voted with the pro-EU opposition Labor Party, they could force a new referendum. But will they? Our leaders are “fragmented, bickering,” just when “history is screaming that the time has come for bold thinking and statesmanship.” ■