The European press appear to have shown little sympathy for the ‘no-deal’ Brexit guidance published by UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab on 23 August.
The mainstream media see the plans as a means to both reassure and frighten the British public, as a negotiating tool with Brussels, and as an admission of ensuing chaos should a deal not be struck.
Germany: ‘Staring into Brexit abyss’
The German press provided extensive coverage on Raab’s publication of several advice papers on a possible no-deal Brexit. Most dailies summarised the content of Raab’s notices, but also observed that these papers offer “too little, too late”.
The prevailing feeling on the European continent is that “it is the Brits’ own fault that they created for themselves such chaos”, but “this attitude is arrogant” and “detrimental”, journalist Stephanie Bolzen said in a column for conservative daily Die Welt on 24 August. If a no-deal Brexit leads to the end of the free market, this will create “shock waves well beyond Europe”, Bolzen said.
“The Brits are staring into the Brexit abyss” was the headline to journalist Markus Becker’s article for centre-left news magazine Spiegel Online on 23 August. Becker said that the UK’s notes on the no-deal scenario “come very late” and that “it is doubtful that British companies will be able to implement the government’s advice in time”.
Brexit Secretary Raab used his speech announcing the no-deal papers to “make clear who would be to blame if the talks were to fail”, journalist Bjoern Finke said in a column for centre-left daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung on 23 August. Raab blames the EU for being “simply not pragmatic enough”, Finke said. The secretary’s statement is “bizarre”, Finke added, because “after all, it is his chief Theresa May who wasted precious time” by only presenting “halfway realistic” economic plans two years after the referendum.
Raab’s call for as much post-Brexit continuity as possible “will in many cases only be possible with the Europeans’ cooperation”, said leading financial daily Handelsblatt on 23 August. Because “the fronts in Brussels and London have hardened”, there is an “increasing likelihood that the talks will end without a deal”, Handelsblatt added.
Centre-right daily Die Zeit reported on 23 August that Dominic Raab’s no-deal papers are an attempt “to prevent chaos”. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the economic consequences “may well be considerable”, Die Zeit concluded.
France: ‘Risks of chaos are real’
Noting that “the risks of chaos are real” because of the sheer volume of preparation needed for Brexit, the leading French dailies see the British government preparing for a dire scenario without a deal and using the “no-deal” guidance as a means to pressure Brussels.
Under the headline “London preparing for a dark scenario of a no-deal divorce”, centre-left Le Monde saw a no-deal Brexit as a possible scenario, saying that “the risk of failed negotiations increased during the last two months”, despite Raab’s assurances that it is “improbable”. “The risks are real,” the paper said.
Right-leaning Le Figaro also saw a no-deal Brexit as “a much darker reality” than what the British government promises, one which “would affect the lives of businesses and consumers in a much deeper way”.
Le Figaro quoted the National Union Farmers of Scotland as saying that “A no-deal Brexit would instantly transform the UK into a third-world country.”
Weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur said “London is preparing for the worst”.
Italy: No-deal Brexit to ‘complicate life for British citizens, businesses’
Italian newspapers have said that British citizens and businesses would pay more in taxes and face more bureaucracy, including tougher customs controls, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“More spending, more bureaucracy. At least in the beginning,” a London correspondent of centrist Corriere della Sera summed up Raab’s instructions. He said Raab was “still convinced that an agreement would be reached”. However, the correspondent also cited the Economist as saying that London has no good cards to play if no agreement is reached with the EU.
“29 March 2019 is approaching, and an exit without a parachute could complicate life for British citizens and businesses,” liberal Repubblica said. Raab’s “guide forecast the main dangers to them”, said the newspaper. These include “costlier credit cards, transactions at prehistoric speeds, more customs controls, and possibly medicines in short supply”.
Conservative Foglio mentioned Raab’s report only briefly, saying that “London has warned companies of Brexit risks”. The newspaper said that if no agreement were reached, UK companies dealing with the EU could face higher taxes and bureaucratic problems.
Spain: ‘London preparing for ‘war of Brexit”
The Spanish press seemed particularly negative about the guidance, arguing that the document was designed to intimidate the British public and revealed the weakness in PM Theresa May’s Brexit campaign.
In an editorial headlined “Divorce without a pact”, centre-left El Pais described May’s campaign as “surrealistic”, since none of Brexit negotiators spoke in favour of the UK’s leaving the EU without an agreement.
“It should be added that the difficulties for citizens from the wild [no-deal] exit are close to the ones from the hard Brexit with a soft appearance. This campaign seems to show, unintentionally, that the best alternative for the British is to remain in the EU; then, as a lesser priority, to stay as close as possible; and finally, the farther they are, the worse it is for them,” El Pais said.
The centre-right daily El Mundo said that Raab’s speech on a “no-deal” Brexit seemed to be aimed at intimidating the British rather than reassuring them. It added that Theresa May’s strategy has been clear since the start of summer holidays: to warn UK citizens, politicians and businesses of the risks of leaving the EU without a deal.
“London preparing for the ‘war of Brexit’,” the conservative daily La Razon said. “The British government has published guidelines to warn its citizens of the possible consequences of leaving the EU without an agreement,” it added.
“London gets ready for radical Brexit and without an agreement with the EU,” the popular daily ABC noted. “The truth is that from Brussels this proposal can be seen as an attempt to shift to the European Commission the responsibility for the consequences of a possible lack of agreement in exit negotiations,” it said.
Netherlands: No-deal scenario ‘serious possibility’
Dutch media noted that the advice papers are both a form of reassurance to UK citizens and a way of putting pressure on the EU by showing the UK is willing to walk away from negotiations.
“London does not just want to reassure UK citizens, but also to pressure Brussels into making concessions”, public broadcaster NOS quoted its correspondent Suse van Kleef as saying on 23 August. By discussing a no-deal scenario as “a serious possibility”, the UK wants the EU to realise “that they are also willing to walk away from the negotiations”, Suse van Kleef said.
Centre-left daily Volkskrant offered a similar assessment, noting on 23 August that Raab’s no-deal plans are not just reassurance, “but also a negotiating technique”. The UK wants to show “that there are limits to its willingness to make concessions”.
Raab’s no-deal papers show “once again that there is minimal space for negotiating a Brexit that does not leave the United Kingdom devastated”, said centre-right financial daily NRC on 23 August.
Leading Christian daily Trouw said on 23 August that this is the “first time London has described down to the smallest details what consequences a disorderly departure from the EU will have”. The daily noted that a no-deal Brexit will mean “a very large amount of additional red tape” for UK businesses trading with Europe.
Belgium: ‘UK willing to play hardball’
The Belgian press responded widely, advising on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit and noting that Raab’s papers are an attempt to reassure the public. But they also warn the EU about the limits of UK flexibility on the final Brexit deal.
Centre-left daily De Morgen noted that the British government is “trying to show that it is prepared for everything”, but that the presentation of the no-deal papers is “probably also in part a negotiation tactic” to show EU negotiators that “there are limits” to Britain’s “flexibility”. The daily quoted Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois as saying that “hopefully, British citizens, companies, farmers, and universities will make the voice of reason heard” against a no-deal Brexit that would be costly to Belgium as well as to the UK.
Brexit Secretary Raab’s warnings about a no-deal Brexit may be a shock, “but his message is nonetheless that the UK is willing to play hardball in the negotiations”, journalist Bart Sturtewegen said in a column for centre-right daily De Standaard. “Only the future can show” what the damage for Belgium will be, “but it is certain that it will be a lose-lose story”, he noted.
Economic daily L’Echo noted that Raab’s announcement mainly showed “that if the negotiations failed, London would take any measures to limit commercial losses without waiting to hear the opinion of the 27” remaining EU member states.
The UK government is trying to “prevent, attenuate, and manage the risk of any short-term disruption”, French-language Le Vif reported. The weekly added that meanwhile, “less than one person in two” in the UK believes that a no-deal Brexit would be damaging to the country, according to a KPMG study.