A major problem in the Brexit debate since June 2016 is how 95 percent of reporting and discussion in the UK media has been about internal Westminster politics. Occasionally space is found for a brief interview with a minister or politician from an EU-27 government but only on condition that they speak perfect English.
Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs are allowed to make demonstrably false statements on the BBC that German car manufacturers will tell Chancellor Merkel to agree to London’s demands or that there are no border checks between Switzerland and its EU neighbours.
Now the “UK in Changing Europe” team at King’s College, London has produced a report listing how different EU countries see Brexit. It demolishes many myths within the Brexit view in London.
Two professors from Denmark write that “the key position for Denmark is that the UK cannot continue to ‘fudge’’’ and that Mrs May’s much-touted “Chequers plans has not significantly changed the position of Denmark.”
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Christian Lequesne from Sciences-Po in Paris explains how Brexit forced Marine Le Pen to change her policy advocating withdrawal from the euro ahead of her contest with Emmanuel Macron to be president of France in May 2017. For the Front National (now renamed Rassemblement National): “Brexit is seen as a British idiosyncrasy that France should not follow.” For the French government “Macron has always been clear that the UK cannot implement a single market à la carte” and a “new referendum leading to the reverse of the Brexit process would find support in Paris.”
In Germany, Magdeburg Professor Eva Heidbreder insists: “The dominant position in the German economy, including in particular the car manufacturing industry, is that the single market is more important than the British one.” She also reports on the bemusement of the German government at Chancellor Philip Hammond turning up in Berlin in January 2018 but not meeting his opposite number as he tried to go over Mrs Merkel’s head to appeal to German public opinion to back the UK line on Brexit.
London placed great hopes on the eurosceptic Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary, sending Prince Andrew, Boris Johnson and Greg Hands (both ministers have since walked out of Mrs May government) to schmooze Hungarians into backing the UK on Brexit. But, as Robert Cheshi, writes, “Hungary is committed to the unity of the EU-27 and the EU-27 are represented by the European Commission and therefore it would be inappropriate to respond unilaterally” initiatives or overtures from London.
Professor Brigid Laffan does appear on British media as one of Ireland’s leading EU experts. She is scathing about Johnson’s comparison of the ultra-sensitive “challenge of the border to the collection of congestion charges between Camden and Westminster” or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s suggestion of a return to border checks “as we had during the Troubles.”
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Anti-Europeans in London took heart from the arrival in power in Italy of two populist parties which built their appeal on the kind of denigration of Brussels which has been standard fare in many UK newspapers this century.
But Professors Marco Brunazzo and Vincent Della Sala assert: “The Conte government would be ill-advised to risk losing the little influence it has (in Brussels) on an issue such as Brexit that is not politically salient nor a priority for its political base.’’ The new populist government “is not very attentive to details or to slow methodical work that is necessary to build alliances and coalition around complex issues such as Brexit” and that “the populists in power have not created a powerful ally for Brexit.”
Ramūnas Vilpišaukas, Director of Vilnius University’s Institute for International Relations, notes that “Lithuanian exports have slowed since 2016 mostly due to the devaluation of sterling.” It is forgotten in London that the Brexit devaluation was seen as trade manipulation in the single market and did not create much sympathy for Brexit. In addition, the Chequers proposals are seen in East Europe as allowing “UK business to gain a competitive advantage in view of the powers it would grant to UK Customs and regulatory institutions.”
In Poland, also a country given to Brussels-bashing, there is little support for London, writes Professor Natasza Styczyńska of Krakow’s Jagellonian University. The rights of up to 1m Poles and 40,000 small and micro-Polish enterprises set up in the UK are a priority. Poland’s Europe Minister, Konrad Szymański, insists the rights of “self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs” are also at stake and these rights (of freedom of movement, working and living in the UK) “should also apply to the families of employees and company owners.”
According to Matts Braun of Södertörn University, visits by Prince William and his wife, also sent to Sweden by the FCO on a royal charm offensive, changed nothing and the clumsy handling by the government of “the Brexit negotiations so far have strengthened Swedish support for EU membership.” Until Brexit Swedish diplomats “had British diplomats as preferred first partners for consultations. This era has gone. The position of the UK for Sweden will be different whatever the outcome of the negotiations and then it will not matter that Theresa May dances to ABBA.”