Brexit Britain from Abroad: Reaction to Article 50

May alternates concessions and threats

In five well-weighed sheets, Theresa May put on the table the first two enormous disputes that the negotiators will have to decide: the concurrence or not of the discussions on divorce and those on future trade relations and the future of cooperation In terms of security, a warning - in two small sentences - slipped at the end of the letter: "The security of Europe is more fragile now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake."

On the first point, the reply - in the form of a scathing refusal - was not long coming from Angela Merkel. "Britain will have to first clarify how to untie the overlaps between the European Union and the United Kingdom,” said the Chancellor from Berlin, "And only then... if possible quickly, can we talk about our future relationship."

And the security threat was immediately denounced by British MPs.

Philip Bernard, Le Monde

Be Braced for No Deal

The problem with May’s letter was that it failed to offer very much for the European side to work with. She has called for a “bold and ambitious” free-trade agreement including financial services, data and telecoms, which is very similar to the current single market, but she also insists that Britain will have nothing to do with the European courts or the free movement of people that the EU has repeatedly said is vital for a single market. May has offered no movement on how Britain might compromise over this in order to win the trade agreement that she wants.

So a clash is already very likely. Although the letter did not repeat her January threat that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, May said in her letter that it is possible that Britain will leave without an agreement. Tusk hoped for an orderly exit, but he also added that he and the EU negotiators would “protect the interests of the 27 remaining EU members”. This is not a hopeful start to a painful two-year drama.

Editorial, Gulf News

Hopes and Delusions

A section of May's Brexit letter demonstrates the true weakness of her position. If there isn't a deal at the end of the negotiations, the letter to the EU states, the UK wouldn't just be reduced to following WTO rules -- it would "mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened." On this subject, unlike economic issues, disadvantages would be equal for both sides. The danger of terrorism would grow for the UK just as it would for the EU. The fact that May has issued such a threat seems desperate.

Will Brexit negotiations end with a punishment for Britain? It is an impression that will be difficult to avoid in the UK. The EU was demonized in the country for years, allowing EU-skeptic politicians and media to claim that Brexit would allow the UK to regain its lost greatness.

The Brexit deal can only disappoint such expectations. And it seems likely that Brexiteers will seek to portray those shortcomings as an EU effort to punish Britain. Otherwise, after all, they would have to take responsibility themselves.

Markus Becker, Der Spiegel

The Pillars of the West are Shaken

Many analysts agree that the British withdrawal, and the uncertainty it produced, has been good news for Russia, and possibly for China, as two large powers that can exercise greater leverage in negotiations with individual European capitals than with a tightly unified European bloc that, taken together, is a geopolitical powerhouse.

“‘Brexit’ surely strengthens the disintegrative processes already underway in the E.U., and therefore is a boon” to Russia, said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at the London-based think tank Chatham House. “The E.U. is more powerful than any single actor, even Germany, so anything that diminishes a rival in the zero-sum terms in which Russia thinks strengthens the Russian voice in Europe.”

Britain’s absence at the European table could also help the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. Partly pressed by Britain, the United States’ main ally, the European Union has been tough on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, and the bloc has moved to cut Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. Anything that shifts power in Brussels away from that Anglo-Saxon view is considered a plus for Moscow.

Steven Erlanger, The New York Times

Britain is Drunk on Sovereignty

The government’s tone has softened in recent days, and [David] Davis acknowledged this week that immigration from the EU could actually increase after Brexit. The UK’s economy remains perky, confounding the Remainers’ warnings of an immediate slump after the referendum and reassuring those who backed Brexit about their future outside the EU.

Scotland’s parliament last night voted in favour of a second independence referendum and although May can delay the vote until after Brexit, it will almost certainly happen soon afterwards. Meanwhile, the UK’s efforts to find new markets beyond the EU are meeting the reality that no market is as large or as promising as Europe’s and that countries such as India want new trade deals to include easier immigration into the UK.

As she starts the clock on two years of negotiations, May remains transfixed by the threat from her right flank and its supporters in the press. But when she lifts her gaze she may see the peril her chosen strategy poses to the integrity of the UK as she takes it on a lonely journey out of the EU, drunk on a notion of sovereignty and all puffed up with no place to go.

Denis Staunton, The Irish Times

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