What do the Europeans think of Brexit 1

Post-Brexit trade agreement"Europe should keep reaching out"

The European Parliament has finally approved the post-Brexit trade agreement concluded with Great Britain. The trade and cooperation agreement received an overwhelming majority of 660 of the 697 votes cast, as Parliament Speaker David Sassoli said the day after the vote. This means that the agreement that has been in force since the beginning of the year is expected to come into force on May 1st.

The EU Parliament delayed ratification for a long time. The reason was the dispute with Great Britain over customs controls in Northern Ireland. The EU accuses Great Britain of violating the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit agreement, which is already in force. This should guarantee open borders between the British province and the EU member Ireland. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson also indicated that he did not want to apply other parts of the treaty.

(picture alliance / Bildagentur-online / Ohde) Great Britain - How the EU trade agreement was delayed
Britain's politicians actually had eleven months to negotiate a deal with the EU. But on January 31, 2020, Brexit Day, the first corona cases were diagnosed on the island. From then on, fighting pandemic dwarfed everything - and the EU had to wait.

Respect the British exit decision, avoid harm

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk, the group leader of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, defended the ratification of the treaty, with which Great Britain would in a certain way remain "part" of the European Union. "If you were to fully implement what Johnson wants, then all relationships would simply be cut. What we are trying to do now is to respect the British exit decision - but to avoid damage," said the CSU politician.

Ultimately, the treaty was approved for two reasons: Because the member state Ireland asked for it and because the ratification gives the EU many more opportunities to "force Great Britain to comply with the treaties". Europe will not tolerate "that we have an open flank of the internal market on the Northern Irish-Scottish border," stressed Weber. At the same time, he advocated continuing to work in partnership with Great Britain - also with a view to a future British government in London, which might want more partnership again.

Read the entire interview here:

Philipp May: Yesterday the vote on ratification; today the result will come in the course of the day. Why this secrecy?

Manfred Weber: In purely technical terms, it is initially like this: We are voting digitally in the European Parliament due to the Covid situation. Therefore it takes a little longer for the results to be announced. But I am expecting a clear, solid result. In the preliminary advisory committees, the results were between 80 and 90 percent. We are convinced that the treaty is good for Europe and that is why we will now confirm it.

Johnson is running the real problem

May: You could think spontaneously, at least if you wanted the EU bad, which of course nobody wants, that is further evidence of the sometimes absurd clumsiness of Brussels.

Weber: We have come through a difficult process. First of all, we had to accept the British result, as wrong as that is, but we have to accept it as Europeans. And then a due process had to be found. You have to see: All these treaties mean that Great Britain remains "part" of the European Union, because leaving would be a hard Brexit. That would be an exit. If you were to fully implement what Johnson wants, all relationships would simply be severed. What we are trying to do now is to respect the British exit decision, but avoid harm. That is the difficult middle ground we are trying to take, and on that basis we must decide now.

(picture alliance / empics | Brian Lawless) Post-Brexit Chaos - The Turbulence of the Northern Ireland Protocol
Brexit is over, but it is far from over: Especially in Northern Ireland, the tensions of the changeover caused by the capricious exit from the EU are evident. The complications and problems that have arisen, however, are precisely what the Northern Ireland Protocol should straighten out and resolve. An overview.

May: You have already mentioned the difficult middle ground. How difficult has it been for you to ratify under the given circumstances, in your opinion that Boris Johnson has already broken the treaty on the Northern Ireland question, for example?

Weber: The question simply arises, should we conclude a new treaty, a newly negotiated treaty now in place, with Great Britain knowing that the last treaty we signed, namely Northern Ireland and the Withdrawal Treaty, that of Great Britain was public and is officially broken and Boris Johnson even adds more and says I do not want to apply any other parts of this contract. How do you deal with such a partner? The really bad thing is that we are no longer in Great Britain -

You know, I grew up in a time when Britain had fact-based, interest-based, great diplomacy that could be relied on. Today we have a Prime Minister in Great Britain who is saying publicly that I no longer care about my signature that I put on this treaty. That is the real problem, not the friendship with Great Britain and with the partners there, but the current government, which lives in the conflict that with the Brexit exit it has promised a lot that it cannot keep. The damage to Great Britain is already visible today.

"We have to make sure that the treaties are applied"

May: But nonetheless: Does an agreement make sense that you know the other side is not adhering to?

Weber: There were now two reasons why we still approve the withdrawal agreement. First, the Irish friends ask us to do so. In the Northern Irish situation we have a particular problem with the resurgent violence on the street, which incidentally is Brexit violence that arises because Brexit is taking place. The EU made peace in Northern Ireland and Brexit is now creating violence again.

That was the first request and the second: With the treaty, the EU now has many more options to force Great Britain to comply with the treaties. In certain segments of the economy we have the option of suspending trade and thus also generating pressure on London. I expect the Commission to make use of these opportunities. We have to make sure that the treaties are applied in the interests of the citizens.

May: You are right: this violence in Northern Ireland is due to Brexit. All experts are actually sure of that. But what is of course also part of the truth is that many fear that the violence would rather get even worse if Great Britain were to sharpen the agreement and really establish a tough customs border between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom or the island.

Weber: It is about a technical limit for the monitoring of deliveries, not about identity checks. Therefore, I think it is now a question of pragmatic application, of will. What we in Europe cannot tolerate is that we have an open flank of the internal market on the Northern Irish-Scottish border. I want to make sure that all products that come into Europe, at the Port of Hamburg, in Amsterdam or even in Dublin or Belfast, are checked, that the EU's consumer protection standards are also applied. That has to be ensured and that is why there is no bargaining ground for us. It has to be checked.

May: What would the sanction options be?

Weber: The EU has already opened a derogation procedure, a legal procedure against London, which provides for certain sanctions, and the hardest weapon is that we block certain market segments for British producers in the internal market and thus exert economic pressure. In case of doubt, that is always the greatest power that Europe has, namely access to the internal market, which we will regulate in the future with this TCA, which we voted on today.

Right-wing populists across Europe are turning away from the exit idea

May: Mr Weber, if we take a few steps away and look at Brexit from above - after a few months, a real Brexit. It is only really in force since the trade contract has been in effect, at least provisionally, since January 1st. Then we see a mood with vaccinated Britons loosening up and unvaccinated EU citizens in lockdown, to put it in a very woodcut manner. It's hard to feel sorry for the British for Brexit right now.

Weber: But Brexit has nothing to do with that. There was a situation: Britain can only vaccinate because Europe has delivered, because Europe has delivered vaccines. We were ready to work in partnership with the British, incidentally also with Switzerland and Norway, who we let participate in the European vaccination strategy. The British were very selfish and didn't let out a vaccine. That is the real issue. One has to say: Should we also be selfish in the future? That is the question we Europeans have to ask ourselves.

But, Mr May, if you will allow me, the real bottom line of Brexit is that food deliveries have plummeted by 40 percent that the UK has. Investments by British companies in Europe have increased by 20 billion. The British are fleeing their own country because they know the single market is so important. 30,000 European students who studied in the UK in 2019 will no longer be able to study there this year because Erasmus is no longer applied. Those are the actual effects and that is why Brexit is a big mistake for everyone involved. Incidentally, there is an interesting effect that populists in Europe, Le Pen in France, are no longer calling for Frexit, no longer calling for France to leave the EU.

May: Except in Germany, if I may briefly object. The AfD!

Weber: Except in Germany, Mr May, and I wanted to come back to how crazy the German AfD is, that it seriously believes that Germany can have a good future outside of the European Union. Right-wing populists across Europe are turning away from this idea. You are now talking about a reformed EU, but nobody wants to leave any more. In this respect, it also shows how isolated the AfD is there and how crazy the Brexit approach was, and I hope that we will have a generation in Great Britain, a next government, a future government that wants more partnership again. With Johnson it seems difficult.

"Europe is still ready for partnership"

May: But that ties in with my next question. At least we are shown with the vaccination situation, compared to Germany with Great Britain, what we lost with the exit of the British: a little more shirt-sleeved Anglo-Saxon pragmatism. Surely that would have done us some good in procuring the vaccine. Don't you think so?

Weber: We can learn that from the British too. Basically, you have to go into detail. If you add the second vaccination, for example, to the full protection of the citizens, Great Britain does not have a better rate than we Germans have.

May: But that's also pragmatic, to be honest, because experts say that it makes a lot of sense to first vaccinate a lot of people.

Weber: Yes! But, Mr. May, there are also many experts who say that if we do the second vaccination too late, the risk of mutants is higher. There are such and such experts. I think we should trust the European Medical Agency, what the experts tell us. We have done well with all these questions, with all these difficult weighing-up questions, as we have also learned at AstraZeneca. Then we are well advised. As I said, it is clear to me that Europe is still ready for partnership. We have shown that with vaccines. We are now showing that with the agreement. And I don't want to take the nationalist-selfish path that the USA took with vaccines or Great Britain. That is the fundamental question that we have to ask ourselves: are we cooperative or selfish.

May: But of course you also have to look at the world in which you are moving. If we now alone observe the assignment of blame between London and Brussels in the drama about AstraZeneca, which you have already mentioned, do you think that is more likely to set the tone in the future? You don't have a partner at all, but rather a strategic competitor in a world that is actually more shaped by elbows and less by blocks, at least one western block that stands together?

Weber: That's a realistic assessment, yes. With Great Britain we have a government in the current situation, especially the Tory government with Boris Johnson, which has to prove at home that Brexit is a great success, but at the same time the facts speak against it. That is why, unfortunately, we will experience God's provocations, also escalations, and I think that Europe should go down the partnership path. We should keep holding out our hand. We shouldn't provoke. But we should be very determined. We should be very confident. We are the bigger market. We have a lot to offer. We know that in the world of tomorrow with China, with Russia, with America, only a united Europe has a voice, and we should go this way with confidence.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.