RECAP: 'What a Brexshit!' – Europe reacts to May's Brexit defeat

Alex Macbeth
Alex Macbeth - [email protected]
RECAP: 'What a Brexshit!' – Europe reacts to May's Brexit defeat
Where to next? Photo: John Thys/AFP.

"What a Brexshit!" and "Prisoners of Brexit" were two headlines in dailies in major EU nations this morning as Europe reflected on Theresa May's historic Brexit defeat. "We are in the theatre of the absurd," a former senior EU official told The Local.


Yesterday Theresa May's government suffered the largest margin of defeat in a parliamentary vote in the UK for a century. 202 MPs voted in favour of her deal but 432 voted against it, a 230 margin of defeat. 

Today she must battle to convince her peers that she retains their trust as a parliamentary debate ensues this afternoon before the vote of no-confidence this evening, called by the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn last night. 

Read on for the main reactions from governments, political figures, industry leaders, trade lobbies, citizens' rights groups, commentators and stakeholders across the EU. 

READ ALSO: RECAP: May's deal crushed as Europe reacts and UK nationals in Europe remain in limbo

  • EU governments, and industry lobbies, reinforce 'no-deal' contingency warnings as the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by the UK parliament
  • Citizens' rights groups call for urgent EU-UK treaty to "ringfence" rights of UKinEU and EUinUK (10:12, 12:40) 
  • Vote of no-confidence to be held this evening in the House of Commons, with May expected to win
  • No inclination yet that Article 50 could be extended or revoked, although minister in France suggests it could (09:36)
  • "We are in the theatre of the absurd," a former senior EU Commission official told The Local
  • French President Macron suggests a transition period will be needed (09:49)
  • View from Germany: "What a Brexshit!" (10:20)
  • German car lobby: rejection of deal is "politically negligent" (10:53)
  • "We still have time to renegotiate" – Chancellor  Merkel
  • "Prisoners of Brexit" – reactions from Spain
  • France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Spain all issue further guidelines to companies and/or issue statements saying they are "accelerating" preparations for a no-deal scenario (12:10, 12:18)
  • "I believe it won't be possible to prepare properly for the chaos"  – German industry leader

You can catch up on last night's action in yesterday's blog or in our end of day summary piece. 

READ ALSO: Brits in EU demand to be spared from Brexit 'train crash' after May's deal rejected

That's it from our live blog for today. You'll be able to catch up with the comprehensive review of all this week's Brexit coverage from The Local in our 'Europe & You' newsletter on Friday. If you haven't yet signed up for our weekly digest on Brexit from the perspective of the EU27 and citizens' rights, you can sign up here.

For now we leave you with a prediction of what the UK government may do next, courtesy of British comedy TV show Have I got news for you


"We still have time to renegotiate" – Chancellor  Merkel

The best news of the day so far for embattled PM Theresa May must be that both Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, leaders of the EU's two most powerful states, have shown lukewarm signs they are willing to negotiate further.

"We still have time to negotiate but we're now waiting on what the prime minister proposes," Merkel said, stressing that she very much regretted the parliament's no vote.

"We believe it is up to the British side, as the prime minister has announced, to tell us what happens next. We want to limit the damage, and there certainly will be damage..., as much as possible," added Chancellor Merkel.

READ ALSO: 'We still have time to negotiate,' Merkel says after Brexit vote

President Macron: "Transition period" could be possible

French President Emmanuel Macron suggested small changes could be made to the deal but that a "transition period" could also be possible.

"Either way, we will have to negotiate a transition period with them because the British cannot afford to no longer have planes taking off or landing at home, and their supermarkets, as much as 70 percent, are supplied by continental Europe," said President Emmanuel Macron, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"Second option, they tell us... 'We'll try to improve what we can get from the Europeans and then hold the vote again. "In that case, we'll look into it. Maybe we'll make improvements on one or two things, but I don't really think so because we've reached the maximum of what we could do with the deal."  

12:40 Brexpats Hear Our Voice reiterate call for People's Vote

"The defeat of her (May's) personal Brexit deal was comprehensive, despite her frequent threats of the danger of a 'no deal' Brexit. The stark reality is that the clock is still ticking and parliament must urgently restore democracy and respond to the irresistible demands for a People's Vote," Brian Robinson, a spokesman for citizens' rights group Brexpats Hear Our Voice, told The Local.  

A sign that reads "ringfence our rights" is pictured outside the House of Parliament on January 15th by the In Limbo project. Photo: Brexpats Hear Our Voice. 

12:33 VIEW FROM CYPRUS: "Nothing is final yet" 

The uncertainty created by the UK parliament's decision not to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement creates spreads to the future relationship between the UK and Cyprus, the Mediterranean EU island where the UK still has two sovereign military bases - a colonial inheritance which the current agreement has created a protocol for. 

"The overall feeling is that nothing is final yet," Professor Andreas Theophanous, director of the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs at the University of Nicosia, told The Local in response to how Cypriots view the ongoing Brexit process. 

A mural by British artist Banksy, depicting a workman chipping away at one of the stars on a European Union (EU) themed flag, is pictured in Dover, south east England on January 7, 2019. Photo: Glyn kirk/AFP. 

12:21 VIEW FROM AUSTRIA: Kurz not banking on second referendum

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz poured scorn on the political viability of a second referendum.

"The debate on a second referendum is being waged among journalists and even among some politicians in Brussels, but in the UK, at least among politicians, this debate is hardly being pursued," Kurz said at the EU parliament in Strasbourg, reported German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. 

12:18 VIEW FROM FRANCE: "The scenario we don't want is a no deal and the risks multiplied yesterday"

France is speeding up preparations for a "no deal" Brexit after the British parliament overwhelmingly rejected the agreement on the table, a French presidential source told AFP on Wednesday, reports The Local France.

"The scenario we don't want is a no deal and the risks multiplied yesterday," the source said. "The prime minister will meet tomorrow with the key ministers concerned to take stock of the preparations and accelerate them," the source added.

12:10 VIEW FROM ITALY: Government working "to limit negative consequences of Brexit"

The Italian prime minister's office said that Rome would continue to work with other EU members "to limit the negative consequences of Brexit, and in particular, to guarantee the rights of Italian citizens in the United Kingdom and British citizens in Italy."

The statement was a rare public pronouncement on Brexit by the Italian government, even though more than €22 billion in Italian exports in 2017 were UK-bound. 

READ ALSO: What's at stake for Italy in the Brexit negotiations?

Jess Phelan at The Local Italy has more reactions to last night's vote from the Italian government and chamber of commerce:

READ ALSO: Italy braces for 'undesirable' no-deal Brexit after agreement's defeat

12:00 VIEW FROM SPAIN: "Prisoners of Brexit"

May's historic rebuke from Westminster last night dominated the front pages in Spain on Wednesday. El Pais warned that the "crushing defeat sharpened the Brexit crisis". ABC ran with the headline: "Prisoners of Brexit," alongside a red-tinted imaged of a fraught looking Theresa May. It's story said the vote leaves "a divided country and the prime minister with almost no options or time to achieve an agreed exit".  

My colleague Fiona Govan at The Local Spain has more on reactions to the Brexit debacle from Spain:

READ ALSO: How Spain is reacting to Brexit deal defeat

11:52 VIEW FROM GERMANY: Chancellor Merkel open to renegotiation

"We still have time to negotiate and are waiting for the proposals that the British prime minister is now making." 

Merkel had previously been forced to deny she had offered May additional "assurances" before the vote.

READ ALSO: German government denies Merkel offered additional Brexit assurances

11:42 VIEW FROM GERMANY: No-deal Brexit will hit British bakeries (and hospitals)

With a no-deal Brexit, fewer workers will come to UK. The shortage of skilled workers will be as noticeable at the bakery as in British hospitals, warns economist Jürgen Matthes with the Cologne-based German Economic Institute.

The same research body has previously said that a no-deal Brexit could wipe 50 per cent of UK-EU trade within 15 years. 

In an analysis piece, Matthes suggests the EU "should hold its position" and not offer to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement. "Now the British Parliament must try to find a reasonable solution across party lines," wrote Matthes on IW's blog (DE).

11:28 VIEW FROM CZECH REPUBLIC: Czech exporters increasingly looking away from UK market

Czech exporters are reconsidering future engagement with the UK.

In the past nine months, the UK dropped from the 4th to the 5th largest export partner for the central European nation due to a 4.6 per cent decline in UK-bound exports, according to Ota Danek, head of the Czech Exporters Association – according to a report in Czech news portal

Czech Republic announced it would draft legislation that would safeguard the rights of 8,000 or so Brits living in the country, so long as the UK reciprocates those rights for the much larger Czech community in the UK.

Interior Minister Jan Hamáček is set to meet with parliamentary parties tomorrow to discuss the new law on Brits in the country, according to Czech media reports.

11:19 VIEW FROM FRANCE: "More than ever preparing for a no-deal" – Calais 

The president of the Hauts de France region, Bertrand Xavier, has said that the region which encompasses the ports of Calais and Boulogne, as well as the Eurotunnel, has intensified its no-deal preparations.

Xavier had previously said that a no-deal scenario could lead to queues of lorries 27-kilometres long either side of the Channel due to extra controls and processing times at customs. 

READ ALSO: The 4 million truck question: The Brexit dilemma facing northern France

11:08 VIEW FROM EU: Protect citizens! 

Various influential EU voices, from Guy Verhofstadt to Antonio Tajani, president of the EU parliament, have emphasized the need to protect the rights of citizens in the UK and the EU caught on the front lines of Brexit. "We will always stand by their side," said Tajani. "The rights of citizens must be safeguarded," said Verhofstadt. 

10:53 VIEW FROM GERMAN CAR INDUSTRY: Rejection of deal is "politically negligent" 

A statement by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), a lobby group which represents top car companies like Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, warned of "fatal" consequences in the event of a no-deal exit.

"The consequences of a no-deal scenario would be fatal. UK political actors need to be aware of the implications of their actions. To reject the withdrawal agreement without there being a concrete alternative for another viable option is politically negligent. Everyone involved should now act prudently and work to prevent a hard Brexit. Against this background, the postponement of the withdrawal date may make sense, as long as substantial progress can be achieved," Eckehart Rotter, a spokesman for the VDA, wrote in a statement shortly after the vote.

"A tough Brexit would have serious consequences for citizens and businesses in the UK and Europe. The companies on both sides of the English Channel are very closely linked. Without orderly and workable solutions for commercial transport, jobs in the automotive industry, especially on the British side, are also at stake," added the VDA. 

Export of German cars to the UK have been down since 2016. The latest data from VDA shows that exports of German cars to the UK in 2018 declined a further 6 per cent. 769,000 cars were exported from Germany to the UK in 2017. 

Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP.

10:35 VIEW FROM FRANCE: "We will have to negotiate a transition period with them" - President Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron suggested small changes could be made to the deal but that a "transition period" could also be possible. 

"Either way, we will have to negotiate a transition period with them because the British cannot afford to no longer have planes taking off or landing at home, and their supermarkets, as much as 70 percent, are supplied by continental Europe," said President Emmanuel Macron, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"Second option, they tell us... 'We'll try to improve what we can get from the Europeans and then hold the vote again. "In that case, we'll look into it. Maybe we'll make improvements on one or two things, but I don't really think so because we've reached the maximum of what we could do with the deal." 

10:20 VIEW FROM GERMANY: "What a Brexshit!" "Madness has taken hold in London"

My colleague Rachel Loxton from The Local Germany has more reactions from Berlin, where politicians and the media have been having a field day with the UK's shambolic political process.

Germany's Minister of State for European Affairs Michael Roth called the outcome of the vote a "disaster" but added: "The doors of Europe remain open."

Tabloid daily Bild ran with the headline: "Was für ein Brexshit!" (What a Brexshit), and in an opinion piece, it said the UK was "formerly known as the Island of Reason".

10:12 VIEW FROM BRITS IN EUROPE: Citizens' rights group calls for "international treaty" to ringfence rights

Rights advocacy group British in Europe called on British Prime Minister May to work towards a treaty with EU partners to ringfence rights.

"Theresa May has lost the vote tonight. She now needs to ask the EU to commit, together with her government, to implement what they both painstakingly agreed on citizens’ rights last year in an international treaty - whatever happens next," said British in Europe in a twitter statement. 

"It would give people the security to get on with their lives as before. Meanwhile Parliament has to get a grip and find a solution on Brexit as the clock is ticking. Citizens have suffered enough - it's time to take people out of the equation," added the group composed of smaller groupings of UK nationals from across Europe.

Approximately 1.2 million Brits are estimated to live in the EU, although some estimates suggest the number is much higher. 

10:02 VIEW FROM THE PAST: "Europe, here we come!"

10:00 VIEW FROM SWEDEN: "When does duty turn into blind arrogance?" 

My colleague Emma Löfgren from the award-winning The Local Sweden has some reaction from Sweden to May's defeat.

It's a huge day in Sweden too as the country will finally find out who will be proposed as prime minister. Catch up on all the details there with Emma's live blog:

READ ALSO: LIVE: Sweden to find out next prime minister candidate today 

09:49 VIEW FROM BRUSSELS: "We are in the theatre of the absurd" - former senior EU Commission official

"We are in the theatre of the absurd," a former senior EU Commission official told The Local. "What comes next is unclear. The UK must on any reckoning be closer to a no-deal exit than it was before. Article 50 states that the UK will leave on March 29th, deal or no deal. Unless of course Parliament votes to revoke Article 50 – which seems to be excluded in political terms," added the former senior Commission official. 

09:40 VIEW FROM ITALY: "The UK were presumptuous. They thought that being British was enough"

09:36 VIEW FROM FRANCE: "Legally, technically, it's possible" to extend Article 50

My colleagues at The Local France have more on France's EU minister reportedly being willing to offer the UK an extension to Article 50. "Legally, technically, it's possible," Loiseau told France Inter radio.

"The British need to ask for it and there needs to be a unanimous agreement among the 27 other members of the European Union to say: 'Alright, you chose March 29 as the leaving date... Ok, we'll push it back," said EU minister Nathalie Loiseau in the radio interview. 

READ ALSO: Frustrated France says Brexit deadline could be pushed back

09:25 VIEW FROM SPAIN: No-deal "catastrophic" for UK

Spain's PM Pedro Sanchez didn't mince his words in his reaction to last night's vote in the UK.

"The Government regrets the negative result in the British Parliament. The Agreement is the best possible and an unordered exit would be negative for the #UE and catastrophic for the UK. Spain works on contingency measures and will prioritize the rights of citizens and residents," tweeted PM Sanchez.

09:21 VIEW FROM ITALY: Great difficulties for exporters

"A no-deal Brexit would reactivate bureaucracy and customs tariffs causing great difficulties for exporters," says Confindustria, the General Confederation of Italian Industry – Italy's chamber of commerce. 

09:14 Ball is in UK's court: EU Commission

"The compromises that we have come to remain the best compromises possible. It is now up to the UK's government to clarify how the United Kingdom wishes to proceed in organising its orderly withdrawal," tweeted the EU Commission. 


The German Foreign Office published a tweet last night shortly after May's historic defeat in the House of Commons. The FO reissued preparedness guidelines for German companies, suggesting a no-deal exit is now the "likely" option. 

It's curious how the language attached to these contingency plans has changed in the last few months. In October, the UK government was still issuing no-deal contingency guidelines "in the unlikely scenario" of a no-deal. German authorities, on the other hand, can see that it is likely. 

09:04 VIEW FROM FRANCE: Article 50 extension possible...but for how long? - EU minister

France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau has suggested an extension to Article 50 is an option. 

09:01 VIEW FROM DENMARK: chaotic Brexit one step closer

Danish PM Rasmussen expressed EU-wide frustrations when he tweeted that the vote had taken us "one step closer to a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario."

The Danish Confederation of Industry warned only yesterday of the looming perils of of a no-deal for Denmark.

"Danish companies are very worried about the prospect of a no-deal scenario," Anders Ladefoged, director of European affairs at the Confederation of Danish Industry, told The Local.

Ladefoged added: "A Brexit without a deal would be very disruptive for both exporting and importing companies with challenging issues around customs and tariffs, waiting time a borders, product certification, data transfer etc. At the moment we are encouraging our member companies to prepare for the worst, even if we are still hoping for an orderly Brexit."

The latest Danish government figures confirm that a no-deal Brexit could cost Denmark billions of euro.

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit could cost Denmark billions, companies looking at alternative markets: ministry

08:46 EU chiefs pour fire on prospects of new deal

Donald Tusk, European Council president, seemed at loggerheads to explain how to move forward only minutes after the deal was rejected.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reiterated after the vote that a new deal with the EU is not available. 

Across Europe, there was disappointment that the Withdrawal Agreement, which has taken both sides 18 months to negotiate, was so strongly rejected by UK parliamentarians. 



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also