Johnson's Brexit plans met by hail of criticism

The EU has responded to London's plans to override certain elements of the Brexit withdrawal agreement with an ultimatum. If the British government does not withdraw its proposed legislation by the end of September, the Union will refuse to continue negotiations on a trade deal. Europe's press is outraged at Johnson's move - but sees opportunities nonetheless.

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El Mundo (ES) /

Populism undermines our trust

In El Mundo's view Boris Johnson is nothing but a liar and lawbreaker:

“When the moment of truth comes, the word of a populist is worthless. ... Brussels believes that this is all just a negotiating manoeuvre aimed at softening the Brexit demands. In any case the mutual distrust is growing. Attempting to unilaterally modify the signed Brexit agreement is nothing but a violation of international law. And Johnson isn't even hiding this. By playing this dangerous game, he is putting himself in a dangerous position vis-à-vis his party, his voters and Europe. This is yet another example of how populism ends up undermining the citizens' trust in their representatives and increasing the alienation which it was trying to remedy.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

The end does not justify all the means

Prime Minister Johnson is harming his country's reputation, warns De Volkskrant:

“According to Johnson, one advantage of Brexit is that it paves the way for landmark free trade agreements. ... But Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has already announced that an American-British trade agreement would have 'absolutely no chance' under these circumstances. ... Yes, strong words and other antics are part and parcel of negotiations, but the most recent British steps go too far. The British voted for the Brexit, not for an ideological crusade. Johnson needs to back down quickly, not just because the EU demands it but because it's in the UK's national interest.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Britain's unhinged behaviour is a chance for Dublin

The Irish government will now have an easier time presenting Ireland as an attractive business location, economist David McWilliams points out in The Irish Times:

“With the UK going rogue, ripping up international treaties and ditching free-market economics, Ireland will look like a much better bet for investment, capital and skilled migrants. Ireland's business model should still be that we are an attractive place to do international business, both for locals and foreigners. Investment that might otherwise have gone to the UK may come here. ... When your neighbour becomes unhinged, all you have to do is nothing to look sane. In global economics, the importance of looking sane should not be underestimated.”

Kauppalehti (FI) /

The EU has more important things to do

Kauppalehti predicts that the EU won't submit to the pressure from London:

“Johnson may hope that the EU will give in if the stakes are set higher. But he is facing 27 countries that are all thinking of their own interests. Those interests include smooth trade with Britain, but not at the expense of the competitiveness of their own companies. If Johnson refuses to accept this, withdrawal without an agreement and new tariffs and red tape are a distinct possibility. Whatever happens, the EU member states don't want to spend more time on Britain than absolutely necessary. They have more important things on their agenda: coronavirus and the historic reconstruction package. The EU finished mourning over Brexit a long time ago.”

El País (ES) /

The empire strikes back

Britain is flirting with the idea of gaining more control over the Republic of Ireland, Lluís Bassets fears in El País:

“Appearances are deceptive. This is not about what the relations between the United Kingdom and the European Union will look like from 2021, once the transitional period has expired. ... The essence of the current dispute - which has a whiff of revenge about it - is on the island of Ireland and in the relations between Dublin and London. It's as if the empire is hoping to use Brexit to regain control of its former colony.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Fear of British dumping

For Gazeta Wyborcza the main problem lies in the question of state subsidies:

“The most difficult point in the negotiations is the EU's demand that the British enter into a trade agreement with the EU on compliance with state aid rules (subsidies for companies) at the EU level. The idea is to prevent the subsidised British from posing a dumping threat to the French or the Germans, for example, on the EU market.”

The Economist (GB) /

British putting their credibility on the line

London is above all hurting its own interests with its actions, The Economist comments:

“EU leaders know that the disruption and economic damage caused by no deal would be far worse for Britain than it would be for them. Faced with a similar prospect last year, it was not the EU but Mr Johnson who gave ground by accepting a separate status for Northern Ireland which implied customs checks in the Irish Sea. Moreover, to rewrite the withdrawal agreement unilaterally would undermine trust in the British negotiators. As EU leaders are already asking, how can they do a trade deal with a country that is talking of ripping up a treaty it agreed with them less than a year ago?”

The Irish Times (IE) /

London no longer cares about the EU's threats

The Irish Times counters that all EU's attempts to up the pressure have come to nothing:

“Throughout the Brexit process, the main source of EU leverage over the UK has been the threat of restriction of British access to the EU single market. However, it is now clear the Johnson government is committed to a very hard Brexit. Even if a deal is concluded, it will involve very major restrictions on British access to the EU single market. Because the UK is hellbent on a course of action that involves major loss of access to the single market, the EU's main negotiating threat (the loss of such access) has lost much of its force.”

Le Soir (BE) /

The EU still makes an excellent scapegoat

Britain's tough stance in the current negotiations is nothing but a diversionary tactic, Le Soir suspects:

“The British have said goodbye to the European Union, nevertheless Europe is clearly still the best red rag to hide all the mistakes, wounds and other domestic ailments from the population. In view of the multiple criticisms assailing the prime minister, Europe is a tried and tested scapegoat. ... It's also important as a means of distracting the citizens' attention from fears of 'Brovid' - as the potential combination of the negative effects of Brexit and a new Covid-19 epidemic before the year's end has been dubbed.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Row with the EU as a diversionary tactic

British political scientist Melanie Sully notes in the Wiener Zeitung that Boris Johnson's approval ratings have dropped:

“The new Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, on the other hand, is cutting a fine figure in Parliament, and the Tory MPs are getting restless. They warn that the government's line is inconsistent, confusing and impossible to communicate - be it on school policy or fighting coronavirus. ... It would take only 15 percent of the Tory MPs to initiate a vote of confidence and vote Johnson out as the party's leader and consequently as prime minister. The Conservative Party Conference is due to begin soon. ... Criticism of his ability to govern will be palpable. A dispute with the EU can serve as a welcome diversion if the party is to be united. And it will certainly secure the praise of the British tabloids for Johnson.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

A pathological desire to self-destruct

How long will the EU continue to play this little game, wonders Bert Wagendorp, a columnist for De Volkskrant:

“The eternal arrogance and megalomaniacal and pathetic self-image of Rule Britannia is covered in a cloak of love. ... It is an amazing spectacle of pathological self-mutilation. Britain has been severely impacted by the coronavirus, and the No-Deal that Johnson apparently wants will deliver another economic blow to the country. Moreover, a no-deal Brexit threatens to divide the country. The Scots already have their application for EU membership at hand. I think we should respect the British desire to self-destruct. ... 'We've had enough, suckers', is the only language these guys understand.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

London's U-turn is understandable

It's simply unacceptable that in its current form the withdrawal agreement makes it possible for Northern Ireland to be economically decoupled from the rest of the UK, The Daily Telegraph fumes:

“There cannot, in any circumstances, be tariffs within the United Kingdom. This is a backstop, in case negotiations break down; it is not an attempt to collapse them. Now the EU needs to choose. It could get on its high horse - a steed it has often mounted in the past - and gallop off over what it says are breaches of the protocol. Or it could express an understanding of the problem which Britain confronts and talk about ways to overcome it. This sort of stuff is not something at which M Barnier excels, but there are more skilful and important leaders in the EU than he.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Johnson turning his country into a dwarf

The British government's risky games could cost the economy and the people dearly, warns De Morgen:

“The British need the Europeans more than the Europeans need the British. Admittedly, a no-deal Brexit, with all the duties and bureaucracy that would entail, would also have negative consequences for our exporters. But they have the advantage of being able to find new markets among the 450 million EU consumers and beyond. Johnson, on the other hand, is empty-handed despite the ambitious 'Global Britain' slogan. The British have not yet signed a single major free trade agreement and are all alone in a global market where giants are crushing dwarves. If Johnson plays it too risky here, he will soon end up like the emperor with no clothes - and his voters with no jobs.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

Brussels no longer taken in by "U-turn Boris"

A prime minister who suddenly wants to turn agreements he himself negotiated on their head will hardly be taken seriously, Kleine Zeitung notes:

“Brussels has always signalled a certain willingness to compromise. But that was on formal details or technical simplification measures, never on the overall deal. It is not to be expected that the EU will give in on key issues. ... What's truly incomprehensible is that 'U-turn Boris' is above all causing almost incalculable damage to his own country. And he clearly thinks that after this zigzag course he will still be able to negotiate on an equal footing with the US, Australia, Canada or China. The EU has already prepared over 100 guidelines for the 'No Deal' scenario. Johnson still thinks it's enough to just blame Brussels for everything.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

A risky game with smoking guns

Whether he is bluffing or serious, Johnson is putting more than the possibility of an agreement with the EU at risk, Brussels correspondent Andrea Bonanni comments in La Repubblica:

“In October, the British prime minister stubbornly rejected the plan drawn up by Theresa May, only to accept it at the last moment. This time, however, by announcing that the clauses signed for Northern Ireland will be declared null and void he is creating an almost insurmountable obstacle to the conclusion of a deal. It's like in one of those third-rate Westerns when the bad guy puts his gun on the poker table and threatens to use it if he doesn't win. The risk of the situation getting out of control is extremely high. And a political crisis with Northern Ireland at its epicentre could quickly reignite the violence between the Catholic and Protestant communities.”

Turun Sanomat (FI) /

Miracles do happen

Turun Sanomat still believes a last-minute agreement is possible:

“It seems increasingly likely that trade relations between the EU and Britain will be based on the minimum framework of WTO rules as of the turn of the year. This would be damaging both for the EU and Britain - but especially for Britain. Companies on both sides of the English Channel would face tens of billions of euros in additional costs and a huge increase in red tape. Britain seems prepared to pay a high price for its withdrawal. Ultimately it's a matter of political will. In the past we have seen how miracles were performed just before the deadline ran out.”

Vedomosti (RU) /

Brexit and Covid - an explosive mix

Vedomosti worries about what could happen in the UK if a hard Brexit on 1 January 2021 coincides with a second Covid-19 wave:

“In that case a 'perfect storm' seems possible. There's even a term for it: 'Brovid'. The scenario was worked out by a government commission, and journalists have called it 'a doomsday document'. It predicts price hikes, food and fuel shortages, mass layoffs, a financial collapse and mass unrest against which the army must be mobilised. The government is already preparing for it. And if this scenario occurs, cyclical power cuts and rationing of water, medicines and food will be required.”

The Irish Independent (IE) /

Irish economy facing the next shock

Regulated relations with the UK are vital for Ireland, The Irish Independent stresses:

“Having well-stocked shelves in supermarkets and factories across the country depends on goods coming from or through Britain. Any significant disruption at that country's ports and/or Irish ports poses a real threat to what is an economic artery. Because every man, woman and child in the country consumes imported goods, including basics such as food, it is vital that supply lines work efficiently and that ports do not back up, which is exactly what could happen if there is no EU-UK trade deal. It could also happen even if there is a deal, and that deal includes lots of new checks and import taxes.”