What does the rest of Europe think about our Brexit shambles? – The Guardian





Patrick van IJzendoorn

Patrick van IJzendoorn

The Netherlands

Patrick van IJzendoorn, De Volkskrant


From the first, it was clear this would end in a quintessentially English muddle

Near where I live stands the old dwelling of Italo Svevo, the Italian writer and factory owner. “This England is so different,” he wrote in one of his daily letters to his wife, who had stayed behind in Trieste. With this remark in mind, as well as my own observations on this blessed bit of land since 2003, the vote to leave the EU didn’t surprise me. The romantic anglophile in me even has a soft spot for this audacious, quixotic decision.

But from the first moment it was clear that it would end in a quintessentially English muddle. The country was woefully under-prepared for such a momentous move. Apart from a disappointing generation of political leaders there is a lack of long-term planning. The British excel in organising royal weddings, state funerals and Olympic Games, but otherwise improvising seems to be the default approach. And one cannot improvise Brexit.

There was imperial nostalgia. I sensed a mood of pride and patriotism, too, after glorious events like London 2012 (the opening ceremony!) and the Diamond Jubilee. What surprised me as a journalist was the fact that pro-Brexit politicians were more willing to be interviewed and that, at the start of any conversation, Brexit voters praise continental culture (Dutch paintings!).

My view of Britain has not fundamentally changed. I have never taken Brexit personally and I have not had Johnny Foreigner-go-home like experiences. On the contrary, I remember the moment when my Remain-voting neighbour was both relieved and happy when I told her that my love for the country and its people was untouched.

A love, by the way, that includes my Brexiter-friends. The playful mood during most Brexit protests, I think, has been rather British. And I hope this remains the case regardless of the outcome of this peculiar episode in the island story.





Sonia Delesalle-Stolper



Sonia Delesalle-Stolper

France

Sonia Delesalle-Stolper, Libération


Breakfast with a Brexiter MP. I go continental. He has the full English

This is a typical day in my life covering Brexit.

06.30: “I am ex-army, my dad never surrendered, unlike the French!” I see the MP Marc Francois, riding a unicorn and wielding a sword in front of EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. I wake up with a jolt and realise I am (not) completely hallucinating. Marc Francois is just wrapping up his interview on Radio Four.

07.15: Off to Westminster. I bump into my neighbour and her dog. She barks at me: “What a shitshow! What is going on?” Once again I regret having ever told her that I was a foreign correspondent.

08.30: Breakfast with an MP. He is an ardent Brexiteer – so I will explicitly pick the continental option. And he will respond with “full English”. It works every time.

09.15: Breakfast wrapping up. “I wanted you to realise that we are not monsters and we like you,” the MP says. Hmmm. It is amazing how worried British politicians have become about their image abroad.

09.30: My chief editor calls me: “So, tonight is the crucial vote?” I sigh: “Yes, maybe. But maybe not. It all depends on the amendements that the Speaker will allow on the motion. If he allows the vote because, according to a convention dating back 1604, he might not…” The line clicks. My editor has hung up on me. Clearly, not clear enough.

11.00: I walk past parliament and spot more European flags than I could have counted in my 20 years in this country before Brexit. Having repeatedly learnt “divorced, beheaded…” and “two world wars and one World Cup”, it seems the English have finally broadened their horizons beyond the Channel.

18.00: I watch the debate in parliament. My kids mess about. I scream “Orrrrrrdddeeerrr!”.

22.30: I try to summarise for the paper: MPs in tears, naked buttocks in the chamber, Corbyn promoting falafels at the British kebab awards, Theresa May vlogging in Downing Street. I don’t include my German husband mumbling in despair: “What is wrong with this country?”

23.00: My mum calls from France and asks, “What happened today with Brexit? Ah non, pas ça!”

I cry myself to sleep.




Jakub Krupa

Jakub Krupa

Poland

Jakub Krupa, Polish Press Agency


For many, if not most, of the million Poles in Britain, this is their home

If you ever thought that a legally non-binding parliamentary process of voting in the House of Commons on an amendment to an amendment to an indicative proposal with both main parties being deeply, personally divided is confusing – try explaining that in another language.

Aside from this, my job as a UK correspondent is made very special and potentially a little trickier than that of my colleagues by the fact that I serve two distinct groups of readers: those back in Poland, who have the unexpected benefit of seeing key debates broadcast live on television with a Polish voiceover of John Bercow’s “orderr!”, and a large diaspora community here, looking for some definitive answers on Brexit (good luck with that!).

One of the most striking features of Brexit coverage for me is how often people ask me if I know any Poles going “back home”, by which they mean “to Poland”. Yes, the number of Poles leaving Britain is a bit higher than it has been in previous years, but nowhere close to “Brexodus” levels that some had feared. For all we know, those who decide to move to Poland are mostly early career professionals looking for new opportunities in the country’s thriving economy, and relatively young couples.

The reasons behind their decisions, however, are much more complicated than it might have seemed at first. While Brexit uncertainty was perhaps what made them take a step back and reconsider their long-term plans, it rarely ever was the main reason for their move.

So many migration stories start in the same, slightly accidental, way: “I came here for a month, and then…” In most cases, it was not meant to be a permanent move, but something that evolved into such over the years as we gradually developed our attachment or even love to our new country.

As a result of this process, for many – probably most? – of the one million Poles in Britain this is their home now.





Stefanie Bolzen



Stefanie Bolzen

Germany

Stefanie Bolzen, Die Welt


Our readers are incredibly knowledgeable – but they are fed up with it

The day after the Brexit referendum in 2016, I went to Romford. I was keen to talk to people in one of the highest Leave-voting constituencies.

In a pub on South Street, I chatted to an elderly lady who was sitting at a table next to her two sons. Both had voted for Leave. She had voted Remain. Why? I asked her.

“There was this logo on a red bus, saying our money should remain in the UK. That’s why I voted for Remain,” she said.

The country has been on a steep learning curve ever since, especially about the European Union. And I myself about this country. I started this job in 2013, arriving from Brussels after four years spent covering EU affairs. I did not expect my move from the heart of Europe across the Channel to be such a massive leap. Maybe my first reporting assignment should have been a warning: it was David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech.

It is a privilege and a challenge to be the UK correspondent for a German newspaper. Our readers back home are incredibly knowledgeable about this place. They speak the language, read British news online, travel to every corner of these islands. They watch BBC shows, attend British universities. By now they all know Mister “Order! Ordeeeer!” John Bercow, too.

Like the British public they are fed up with Brexit, though. “Why did the Brits do this? For what purpose?” they ask. Despite growing exhaustion, I still try to find answers. When talking to the author Hilary Mantel a while ago, I found one persuasive explanation: “England has been too long a nation to see her own nationalism,” she said.

“There is something unquestioning in the English mindset.” Whether or not the merciless Brexit learning process will change that, I don’t know. I only know it is an incredibly exciting time to be a reporter in this place.




Antonello Guerrero

Antonello Guerrero

Italy

Antonello Guerrera, La Repubblica


With all the intrigue, twists and turns, how could you ever be bored?

When, in a surreal speech in the evening of 20 March, Theresa May launched an attack on parliament and criticised it for “infighting and political games” that had robbed the British people of their Brexit, I couldn’t believe it. Here was a prime minister branding as enemy an institution that we Italians regard as a cradle of western democracy.

This the latest absurd paradox of Brexit: that as Italian and European readers are becoming rather fond of the glorious House of Commons and of the British parliament’s theatricality, the British seem increasingly unhappy with it: according to a recent survey, more than half of them would like to see “a strong leader willing to break the rules.”

And yet, now more than ever, Britons should be proud of their parliament and of the mess it has unleashed. Because its political debates are authentic, intense and passionate. Because serious politics, such as dismantling 40 years of links with the EU, is a far slower and more tortuous process. And because in other countries, the parliament does not have the same character or importance: in Italy, for example, there have been brawls, and debates are quashed with votes of confidence; in France the parliament comes a strict second to the Élysée; and in Germany there is just not the same emotion.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of interviewing John Bercow at Westminster. Today the Speaker is an idol in Europe for his bellowed rhetoric that blends Shakespeare and Monty Python. Despite the Munchian zeitgeist (never has an exhibition seemed so timely as the British Museum’s this April), British politics is ever more appreciated abroad; Mr Speaker explained to me why – it is because, here, the parliament is the soul of everything.

Brexit is one of the most exhausting stories I have covered, but it is also the most charming – because, amid the intrigue, twists and turns, how could you be bored? No one knows how it’s going to end. But, meantime, God save Westminister.



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