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‘Three weeks to find a miracle’: Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos

From Madrid to Rome, via Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague, the headlines across Europe summed up the feeling of despair with the Brexit process with Le Monde calling it a "Shakespearean tragedy".

'Three weeks to find a miracle': Europe reacts to yet more Brexit chaos
File photo: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP.

As the EU Council granted the British government a three week respite to get the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement approved by British MPs, headlines in EU news sites did not stack their odds on this happening.

“Theresa May's last chance: She has just under three weeks to find herself a miracle,” wrote Antonello Guerrera in a commentary piece in Rome-based daily Repubblica. 

French daily Le Monde wrote that Brexit was causing “a regime crisis” in the UK. The Paris-based daily compared the Brexit saga to a “Shakespearean tragedy.” Le Figaro daily called the EU's Brexit extension, which comes with the caveat that the UK must approve the Withdrawal Agreement, “a formidable trap” set by the EU27. 

Le Monde did however find time to pay tribute to the way the British were reacting to the crisis – with the self-deprecating humour they are known for.

“Confronted with an absurd political spectacle, they cling to their local specialty, black humour,” wrote Le Monde.

German media were equally drama-orientated. “The EU takes directorial control in Brexit drama,” was the headline in German online news site Spiegel Online. Munich-based daily Süddeutshce Zeitung ran with a more a conciliatory tone with its headline “Brexit chaos initially averted.”

'History will judge'

The daily noted new optimism from key EU figures that the deal could still be approved by the UK parliament: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it “was an intense but successful evening”;  EU Council President Tusk said he “optimistic” and Eu Commission President Juncker was cited as “hopeful” that the deal could still pass through the House of Commons, according to the daily. 

The general consensus in the German media was that the brief extension to Article 50 granted by the EU would only defer any Brexit chaos. “The EU gives Britain a reprieve and thus defuses the Brexit crisis – for the time being,” commented German news portal Handelsblatt. 

The view from Spain wasn't dissimilar. Spanish daily El Pais ran with the view of the Iberian country's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. “We are at a critical moment in the construction of Europe. History will judge what will happen in the coming weeks,” PM Sanchez told the Madrid-based daily. 

El Pais also noted that whatever mess comes, there will be enough toilet paper in the UK to clean up, reporting that German firm WEPA – a key supplier to the UK market – has stockpiled 600 tonnes of toilet paper at its UK warehouses in preparation for a no-deal. 

'A storm is coming'

“The prime minister has invested almost all her political prestige in guaranteeing the outcome of the referendum, and sail Brexit into harbour. The problem is that the British ship is not in port, but in the middle of the sea. And there's a storm coming,” wrote Erik de la Reguera in an analysis piece in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. 

READ ALSO: Sweden fast-tracks citizenship applications from Brits

“The future of Brexit lies in the hands of 10 Northern Irish people,” wrote Spanish-daily El Confidencial in an analysis piece, focusing on how Theresa May will need DUP votes to approve the deal at a third time of asking. 

“Think of the future of your country. Approve this deal,” said the Czech Republic's billionaire Prime Minister Andrej Babis, addressing British MPs, according to a report in Czech broadsheet Hospodarske Noviny. 

“EU gives the British two extra weeks to get out of Brexit chaos,” wrote Dutch financial news site Het Financieelle Dagblad. 

READ ALSO: Cancel Brexit petition passes TWO MILLION signatures

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BREXIT

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

The UK Ambassador to Spain has given an update on the driving licence debacle, with nothing new to genuinely give hope to the thousands of in-limbo drivers whose increasing frustration has led one group to try and take matters into their own hands.

UK driving licences in Spain: When no news is bad news

It’s been almost five months since UK driving licence holders residing in Spain were told they could no longer drive on Spanish roads. 

Since that fateful May 1st, an unnamed number of the approximately 400,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain, as well as hundreds if not thousands of Spaniards and foreign nationals who passed their driving test in the UK, have not been able to use their vehicles in Spain or even rent one. 

What adds insult to injury is that British tourists visiting Spain can rent a car without any issue. The fact that Spanish licence holders living in the UK can also continue to exchange their permits in the UK 21 months after Brexit came into force is equally hard to swallow.

READ MORE: ‘An avoidable nightmare’ – How UK licence holders in Spain are affected by driving debacle

The latest update from UK Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott on September 27th has done little to quell the anger and sense of helplessness felt by those caught in this bureaucratic rabbit hole.

“I wanted to talk to you personally about the driving licences negotiations, which I know are continuing to have a serious impact on many of you,” Elliott began by saying.

“As the government’s representative in Spain, I hear and understand your frustrations. I too am frustrated by the pace.

“We previously thought, we genuinely thought, that we’d have concluded negotiations by the summer. 

“Many of you have quite rightly mentioned that I expressed the hope to you that we’d have you back on the road by the end of July.

“Now the truth is it has taken much longer, as there have been unforeseen issues that we have been working very hard to resolve. 

“And I’m as disappointed as you are by the length of time that this is actually taking. 

“But, please, be assured that we are resolving those issues, one by one. There are only a couple of issues left, but they are complex.”

It has previously been suggested by the UK Embassy that Spain has asked for data provision to form part of the exchange agreement, and that British authorities were reluctant to share said information on British drivers’ records, including possible infractions. 

Whether this is still one of the causes of the holdups is unknown, given how opaque the Embassy is being in this regard. 

“We’re working on this every day, it remains a priority,” the UK Ambassador continued.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes, even if it doesn’t feel like it to you. 

“I know too that you want a timescale and you want an update after every meeting.

“But I’m afraid I just can’t give you those things in this negotiation.” 

The ambassador’s words are unlikely to appease those who are still unable to drive. 

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group called “Invasion of the British embassy in Madrid for the DL exchange issue” was set up, which so far has more than 400 members. 

The group’s administrator, Pascal Siegmund, is looking to set up a meeting with the British Embassy and Spanish authorities to shed light on the impact that not being allowed to drive is having on the life of thousands of UK licence holders in Spain. 

Many of those affected are sharing their stories online, explaining how, due to administrative errors on the part of Spain’s DGT traffic authority, they were unable to process their licence exchange before the deadline. 

This contrasts with the little sympathy shown by UK licence holders who were able to exchange and other commentators, who accuse those in limbo of not having bothered to complete the process, arguing that it’s essentially their own fault.

READ ALSO: Not all Brits in Spain who didn’t exchange UK driving licences are at fault 

“Many of you also continue to ask why you can’t drive while the talks are continuing,” Elliott remarked.

“It is not in the gift of the UK government to reinstate the measures which previously allowed you to continue to drive whilst the negotiations were ongoing earlier in the year. 

“As we said previously, we did request the reinstatement of those measures several times, but this wasn’t granted.”

It’s worth noting that since the news broke on May 1st that UK licence holders residing in Spain for more than six months could no longer drive, no Spanish news outlet has covered the story again. 

Pressure from citizen groups such as the one recently set up and increased awareness about the issue in English-language news sites such as The Local Spain is perhaps the best chance in-limbo drivers have of their voices being heard and the driving licence debacle being finally fixed. 

“I’d say we’re genuinely still making progress,” UK Ambassador Elliott concluded, practically the same message as in previous updates.

“I get how frustrating it is to hear that, but we are making progress. We’re in discussions almost daily about outstanding issues. 

“And I remain very optimistic that we will reach an agreement and hope it will be soon. 

“But as I say, I can’t give you a definitive timetable. 

“And so, the advice that we have been giving all along, which is that you should consider taking the Spanish test if you do need to drive urgently, remains valid. Though we appreciate that’s hard.”

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