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‘One lie too many’ – how Europe’s press responded to the fall of Boris Johnson

A politician who has long had a tense relationship with Europe - despite a French dad and a childhood in Belgium - UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's resignation speech created a raft of headlines in European press, few of them positive.

'One lie too many' - how Europe's press responded to the fall of Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes his speech in Downing Street on Thursday. Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP

On Thursday Boris Johnson announced that he would step down after dozens of his ministers quit their jobs in protest at his leadership. News of his departure naturally dominated the front pages in the UK, but made quite a few headlines in Europe too.

Here’s a selection of the reaction in the countries covered by The Local.

France

Fluent French-speaker Johnson has long had a penchant for French-bashing – memorably referring to the French as ‘turds’ during the Brexit negotiations – and had a tricky relationship with arch Europhile Emmanuel Macron.

The leftwing French daily Libération splashed on Johnson’s departure under the headline Big Beigne, a slightly torturous Big Ben pun, as in French a beigne means a hit or a blow. The paper described Johnson’s term as “marked by scandals and lies, further weakening a country already divided by Brexit”.

The same newspaper simply wished the UK ‘good luck’ at the beginning of Johnson’s premiership.

The French word you would definitely need to follow the media coverage was mensonges (lies), the rightwing La Croix newspaper publishing a leader column written by editor Jérôme Chapuis headlined Le prix du mensonge (the price of lies).

The ‘paper of record’ Le Monde played it straight, with a headline: Boris Johnson – de la victoire éclatante à la chute chaotique, trois ans de turbulences (from brilliant victory to chaotic fall, three years of turbulence).

Meanwhile French journalist and best-selling author Dov Alfon was extremely tickled at the actions of the Madame Taussaud museum in Blackpool, which posed its Boris Johnson waxwork outside the local Job Centre.

Germany

German tabloid Bild chronicled Johnson’s missteps, saying “one lie too many” had brought down the Prime Minister. 

Spiegel led with the same header, adding “The clown’s leaving, the chaos remains.” In their tweet they said their cover story was on “Johnson’s toxic legacy”.

Germany’s FAZ commented on Johnson’s “bitter” departure. The newspaper wrote: “When Boris Johnson stepped outside… to announce his resignation, some expected a word of personal reflection, perhaps an admission that could explain why he was politically finished only two and a half years after a brilliant electoral success.

“But it was the others who got their talking to. ‘When the herd moves, it moves,’ he said bitterly, as if everyone but him was wrong – his party colleagues, the journalists, even his cabinet colleagues.”

Some German publications had a few harsh words to say about Brexit.

“Many Britons will now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Handelsblatt. “Gone are the days when one had to doubt whether one’s own prime minister was telling the truth to the people or, once again, was deceiving them. This is what Johnson did with Brexit, which he first pushed through with false figures and then sold as a big win for his country. In fact, the UK is worse off economically today than it would be in the EU.”

Spain

Boris Johnson’s resignation has made the front pages of all of Spain’s main newspapers, with little sympathy across the political spectrum for a leader and a country that Spaniards have looked at with bemusement since the Brexit vote.

Left-leaning news website El Diario, a partner of The Guardian, went with “Rise and fall of Boris Johnson: The Prime Minister who tripped over his own lies”.

In an op-ed piece in Spanish conservative daily ABC, journalist Jesús Lillo chose the headline “The man who manipulated himself”, describing Johnson as both the problem and the solution for a disorientated United Kingdom, a “winning combination in the rabble-rousing lottery”.

Spain’s leading national newspaper El País described the soon-to-be former British PM as “the Brexit magician”, stressing just how many lies he’s pulled out of his hat to reach power. 

Whilst Spain’s second most read newspaper El Mundo went with “Goodbye to the king of buffoons” in its daily podcast. 

Spain’s top newspapers have given a lot of front page coverage to Johnson’s disheveled hair, as well as running with words such as “the last pirouette” and “from Brexit to Borexit”.

Switzerland

Switzerland’s German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung said Johnson was “a political pop star and an election winner” but “had fallen victim to his own staging”. “Boris Johnson has always been all about him rather than policy content… in the looming economic crisis, citizens want a reliable head of government who will take care of their problems.”

On Friday morning, the NZZ sized up Johnson’s potential replacements, saying it would be a battle between “a Brexit convert, an ambitious manager or a quiet shepherd”. 

Swiss tabloid Blick took a different approach, saying that despite Brexit and the constant controversy surrounding Johnson “Europe will still miss the anti-European”, largely for his role as an advocate of Ukraine. 

Blick did however have some harsh words for the soon-to-be-former PM. 

“He was never a role model, seldom a gentleman, all too often just a liar. With his Brexit he drove a wedge between the kingdom and the continent – and he frightened the neighbours so much that Scotland will soon vote on its independence for the second time.” 

Austria

“The era of narcissistic politicians is over”. This is what the Austrian newspaper Die Presse wrote in its editorial after news that Boris Johnson would resign as UK’s prime minister.

The daily continues: “for the British conservatives, the departure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an opportunity to return to basic virtues such as honesty and seriousness”.

Newspapers in Austria highlighted the many controversies of Johnson’s time as leader of the United Kingdom, and broadcaster ORF reported that there were “calls for his quick replacement”.

The national broadcaster also mentioned Johnson’s farewell speech: “he did not apologise for the many scandals that eventually forced him to withdraw”.

Kurier ran a story based on British media reports that Johnson had “desperately” wanted to remain in the position because of his upcoming wedding party planned in Chequers, the official country estate of the British Prime Minister.

Downing Street on Friday announced that the private wedding party would take place at another location.

The daily newspaper published a cartoon mocking Johnson’s farewell speech and apparent blindness to his own standing in UK politics:

Italy

In Italy the daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano focused on Johnson’s less-than-graceful resignation speech, saying: BoJo si dimette con l’ultimo insulto: “Mi manda via il gregge” (BoJo resigns with the last insult: ‘The herd is pushing me out’).

While Corriere took a longer view with ‘Rise and fall of Boris Johnson: the boy who wanted to become “king of the world” and took London out of Europe’.

Denmark

Although Denmark’s mainstream politics has a settled pro-EU stance, the country has not seen its relations with the UK strained by Brexit to the extent seen in bigger EU powers like France and Germany.

Left-leaning daily newspaper Politiken went with the simple “Exit” following Johnson’s chaotic announcement on Thursday.

The Conservative Party has now had five leaders in 20 years, Politiken observes, adding that the country is “waiting with anticipation to see who comes next”.

The right-leaning Jyllands-Posten wrote that Johnson will be remembered for a “historic divorce” and little else, in reference to Brexit, though foreign security correspondent Jørn Mikkelsen praised the outgoing PM’s support for Ukraine, suggesting it may have been his “finest hour” (using the English phrase first popularised by Churchill).

In its analysis, broadcaster DR wrote that “Boris Johnson will be among the prime ministers to have held the position for the shortest time in British history, but the British will feel the effects of his Brexit for generations.”

Sweden

In Sweden, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet led with “Harassment scandal was the end for Johnson” in reference to the controversy surrounding Johnson’s nomination of disgraced MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip and subsequent denial that he knew of allegations of sexual harassment against Pincher .

“Anyone who expects self-reflection from Boris Johnson is going to be waiting in vain,” wrote columnist and author with Dagens Nyheter, Gunnar Pettersson.

“Boris Johnson’s tragicomedy is finally over”, the headline of the column states.

Journalist Arvid Åhlund meanwhile argued that “Boris Johnson’s resignation is, more than anything else, a sign that British democracy is working as it should”.

Norway

“Boris Johnson steps down: Highlights own achievements” was Norwegian tabloid newspaper Dagbladet’s take on Boris Johnson’s resignation speech. 

A commentator for Norway’s largest regional paper, Bergens Tidende, was far less kind writing “A walking scandal steps down”. 

Meanwhile, another regional, Stavanger Aftenblad, wrote that the PM would be remembered for “Brexit, lies and partying”. 

Other outlets focused their analysis in the aftermath of the resignation on the various scandals surrounding the PM throughout his time at Downing Street. Public broadcaster NRK opted for: “The scandals that plagued Boris Johnson”.

Norway’s most-read online newspaper Verderns Gang summed up his time as prime minister as an “avalanche of scandals”, adding, “Johnson has been a controversial figure during his entire public life. From juicy public statements to political manoeuvres: He has rarely been able to restrain himself from creating attention around his own persona.”

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IMMIGRATION

‘Inhuman speech’: Austria’s far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Politicians in Austria criticised a far-right FPÖ leader who called for a suspension of citizenship granted to non-Europeans and for the tying of social benefits to proof of German skills.

'Inhuman speech': Austria's far-right blasted for wanting to tie social benefits to German skills

Austrian politicians criticised Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) member Maximilian Krauss in Vienna after he demanded proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits and asked for “no citizenship to be granted to people who come from outside Europe”.

Jörg Konrad, a member of the liberal party NEOS, denounced the “inhuman speech” and said that the sole criterion for receiving the benefits was “need”. “Serious politics and striving for solutions simply cannot be expected from the FPÖ,” Konrad said.

During a Vienna Parliament session on Wednesday, Krauss, chairman of the FPÖ, pointed out that more than two-thirds of the total 260,000 people “collecting” minimum benefits in Austria lived in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

According to him, the majority of them, almost 60 percent, did not have Austrian citizenship and were “making themselves comfortable at the taxpayers’ expense” in Vienna.

“The majority of minimum income recipients were social migrants unwilling to work”, Krauss said.

The FPÖ representative stated: “By now, we know that neither rocket scientists nor the urgently needed skilled workers came to our country in 2015”.

Krauss called for obligatory German language skills for tenants of municipal apartments or proof of German as a prerequisite for social benefits, such as the minimum income. He also demanded that Austrian citizenship should not be granted to people who come from outside Europe and said that immigration or family reunifications must be slowed down or suspended.

What is the ‘minimum income’?

The issue was raised because, according to Krauss, migrants came to Austria and, in particular, to Vienna, looking to live off of the country’s social system and the city’s “Minimum Income” (Mindestsicherung).

According to the City of Vienna, the “minimum income” is financial support to secure the cost of living and the rent of Viennese with little or no income. Only Austrians, EU or EEA citizens, persons entitled to asylum or third-country nationals who are long-term residents can apply for this assistance. 

The applicant must also generally prove their willingness to work via registration with the labour office AMS. In addition, there are several other preconditions and required documents to apply for assistance.

The monthly payment amount varies according to each person’s conditions, but, in 2022, it’s not more than € 978 per person, with possible extra payouts of up to €117 per minor child and up to € 176 if the person has a disability.

A sign reading ‘control’ (‘Kontrolle’) stands on the road at the German-Austrian border near Lindau, southern Germany. (Photo by STEFAN PUCHNER / DPA / AFP)

‘Xenophobic instincts’

“The minimum income serves as a social safety net against poverty, especially for children, single parents and people who are particularly at risk of poverty”, said centre-left SPÖ member Kurt Wagner. 

He went further: “The FPÖ rarely contribute to solving a problem but are often the problem themselves because of their populism and xenophobic instincts”.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s Freedom Party a ‘far-right’ party?

Green politician Viktoria Spielmann said that the minimum income is enough to ensure the most basic needs: “Have you ever had to make do with such an amount? To put the amount into perspective, rents in Vienna averaged €500. So the minimum income was the least that would secure people’s existence.” 

For her, calling recipients “lazy” or unwilling to work is unfair.

So, how much do foreigners take up?

In 2021, 135,649 Viennese received the minimum income, according to Stadt Wien data. The number of non-Austrians receiving the payments was 77,746, accounting for about 57 percent of recipients. 

However, the City of Vienna mentioned that the Austrian capital has a higher proportion of foreign residents and cited a study that concluded that compared to Austrians, migrants from non-European countries had more difficulty getting jobs, even after years of living in Austria.

READ MORE: Diversity and jobs: How migrants contribute to Vienna’s economy

Additionally, foreigners also bring money into the Austrian economy. 

Figures from Austria’s Chamber of Commerce (Wirtschaftskammer) showed that business owners in Vienna with a migration background generate € 8.3 billion in revenue and create around 45,500 jobs. 

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, said: “Companies with a migrant background not only enrich the diversity of the corporate landscape in Vienna, but they are also an economic factor.”

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