Brexit: should the EU relent or stand firm?

After the British House of Commons rejected both a no-deal exit and the guarantee of an open border in Ireland, Theresa May has called for renegotiations on the Brexit, a demand rejected by EU leaders so far. Behind the scenes, however, all the options are under discussion. Europe's press debates whether the Brexit parcel should be unwrapped again.

Open/close all quotes
Público (PT) /

Irresponsibility on both sides

The EU must rethink its tough stance, demands Edgar Almeida in Público:

“It is not just scores of British politicians and officials who are behaving irresponsibly, but also their EU colleagues. This irresponsible behaviour is typical of those who feel immune to the fallout of a no-deal Brexit. ... The uncompromising terms for leaving which were negotiated with the EU are not in my opinion the best option for all parties involved. ... If the main argument against being cooperative towards London is the worry that other states will eventually want to leave on the same terms, it is perhaps time to take a jolly good look at the EU's mental constitution.”

Trud (BG) /

No backstop, no deal

The British must finally accept that the backstop is non-negotiable, Trud complains:

“The behaviour of the British politicians since the start of the Brexit negotiations and in recent weeks in particular shows why the guarantees for an [open] border with Northern Ireland must be binding for Britain. Somewhere deep inside their thick skulls the British must know this. Apart from that, before the Brexit finale there is another obstacle whose existence London has no doubt forgotten again: even if the 27 EU members were to agree to amend the backstop clause, which is highly unlikely, the EU Parliament still has the final say. And it will never admit a deal without legal guarantees on the status and border of Northern Ireland.”

Delo (SI) /

Please don't slide into a no-deal Brexit!

The EU must now make a carefully considered decision, Delo warns:

“Britain's chaotic politics in recent weeks, coupled with populism and a lack of understanding of the way the EU functions, urge caution. The numerous warnings against a disorderly Brexit are based on the observation that no decisions need to be made for it to happen. On the long list of ways to leave the EU, a disorderly Brexit is the only option that will simply happen if no other choice is made. But the consequences would be completely unforeseeable. No one can predict what would happen on the Irish border or with the transport of goods across the English Channel.”

Adevărul (RO) /

EU mustn't become a laughing stock

Brussels must stand firm now, writes analyst Cristian Unteanu in his blog with Adevărul:

“On Wednesday Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker once again reiterated before the EU Parliament that the withdrawal agreement 'is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom.' ... Full stop. That's it. In principle it seems absolutely impossible for the EU to accept a renegotiation of the agreement without making a laughing stock of itself and losing its status as a credible authority at the international level. This puts the entire responsibility for the final decision in the hands of the British parliament, where in mid-February it will be given a last chance to accept the original agreement. The parliament will probably accept the deal out of pure desperation, unless a second referendum becomes the last resort.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

New negotiations or no deal

For taz, the ball is in the EU's court now:

“It's neither acceptable nor reasonable to simply insist that renegotiation is out of the question, as the EU did in its initial reactions. Renegotiation is always possible. It's a question of political will. At the moment the British side is showing great will - but the European side isn't showing any. The options on the table are now clear. Either the deal is altered in a way that makes it possible for both sides - including the British parliament - to ratify it. Or it isn't ratified, and then there's a no-deal Brexit. Europe must decide.”

Público (PT) /

Don't add grist to Euro-sceptics' mill

The EU could pay a heavy price for intransigence, warns Teresa de Sousa in Público:

“Many EU governments perhaps see no advantage to conveying an image of intransigence to their own voters - especially with the European elections drawing closer, which will be decisive for Europe's future. ... In the event of a no-deal Brexit anti-European and nationalist movements would point to the EU's intransigence as an example of Brussels' 'dictatorship'. ... The EU decision makers should therefore consider all the potential alternatives - from postponing the exit date to partial renegotiations. At some stage the perverse logic must be broken according to which one side's strength is the other side's weakness' and vice versa.”

Financial Times (GB) /

EU has also made concessions to other countries

Brussels has always been ready to make compromises when it wanted individual member states to meet it halfway, the Financial Times recalls:

“Some European officials have acknowledged that assurances could be made outside the withdrawal treaty that the Irish backstop is not intended as a permanent solution. ...There are precedents for what Mrs May can realistically achieve. During the establishment of the Lisbon treaty a decade ago, the Czech Republic was granted a last-minute concession on the charter of fundamental rights to smooth its ratification without reopening the treaty. The EU also showed flexibility in the case of Denmark, which secured opt-outs from the Maastricht treaty after Danish voters rejected the accord in a 1992 referendum.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Last-minute creativity needed

The negotiators must now reassess all the different options, writes Helsingin Sanomat:

“May can promise the MPs everything under the sun but that won't change an unpleasant fact for Britain: the EU doesn't want to reopen the exit agreement for negotiations. ... Time is ticking if a hard Brexit is to be avoided, and more creativity is needed. How do you renegotiate the deal without reopening it for renegotiation? That's what May and the EU negotiators need to ponder. Would perhaps a legally binding supplementary protocol which attempts to redefine the conditions for the backstop be a possibility?”

Zeit Online (DE) /

British politicians talking to themselves

The adopted proposals don't solve a thing, Zeit Online complains:

“They only highlight how the British government and the MPs have moved deeper and deeper into a labyrinth for two years. ... Sabine Weyand, the EU's deputy chief negotiator, has said unequivocally: 'There will be no more negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement. We’re not going to reopen the agreement.' But once again no one in London listened. ... So there has been a repeat of what has been repeated for two years. British politicians are talking to themselves. British politicians are tormenting, planning, polemicising, and engaging in intrigues that bring them to ever-new compromises that are identical to the old ones. The fact that nothing works without the consent of the EU is being left out of the calculations.”

The Guardian (GB) /

A bluff, not a victory

The vote in the House of Commons won't make May's weak position any stronger, The Guardian warns:

“It is the bluff that Britain holds all the cards, and that if we show enough contempt for treaties and economic logic, Brussels will be intimidated into granting favours that could not be won by conventional diplomacy. There are two possible reasons for pursuing that strategy. One is stupidity: failure to grasp what the negotiations so far have actually been about and how May's deal was their logical outcome. The second is cynical vandalism: knowing that the plan will fail and hoping, when it does, to pin blame for a chaotic no-deal Brexit on Brussels intransigence.”

La Tribune (FR) /

Europeans need to get creative again

All is not lost in the eyes of Vincent Vicard of the French economic research institute CEPII, by contrast. He writes in La Tribune:

“The rejection [of May's original Brexit plan] by the British parliament has not fundamentally changed the choices faced by the British. Nevertheless one must not forget that while a no-deal Brexit would be particularly costly for the UK, the prospect of having a large uncooperative country as neighbour would be disastrous for the countries of Europe in the long run. The EU and its member states have often shown creativity in the last moments of crucial negotiations. Just such creativity is needed once again today.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Factories coming to a standstill?

Večernji voices concern about the future of the British economy:

“Everything points to a no-deal Brexit without rules on trade, relations with other EU states and so on. Trade would suffer first, then the financial markets, then industry. Food shortages at shops have already been announced, pharmacies are running out of medications, industrial groups (Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Honda, BMW) are suspending production. Honda has announced it will stop car production for at least six days after March 29, while BMW will take a month-long break at its factory near Oxford to assess the impact of a supply shortage on production.”