'Just window dressing': European media on May's Brexit pledge to MPs

The European media are far from reassured by Theresa May’s latest pledge that MPs would have a chance next month both to reject a no-deal Brexit and extend article 50, with many pointing out it had done nothing to avert the risk of Britain crashing out.

“Europhile MPs in parliament may have finally taken the upper hand,” wrote Libération in France. “Theresa May finally ceded to them what they had been demanding for months – votes on a no deal, and a delay of Britain’s exit from the EU.

“But once again, the prime minister has neither resolved nor ruled out anything – certainly not the possibility that at the end of the day, parliament fails to agree on a deal at all. By the end of her speech, barely 30 MPs were present in the chamber to listen. Could it be that what she says is no longer very important?”

Le Monde said that, despite the prime minister’s about turn on an extension, “Brexit uncertainty remains at its peak … It is hard to see how, if a deal that has taken two years to negotiate is rejected for a second time on 12 March, an extra three months will somehow allow the exit door to be found.”

The timetable for May’s strategy of running down the clock was now “extremely tight”, the paper said, and “in no way excludes the hypothesis of the no-deal Brexit that a majority of MPs fear – but that the Eurosceptic minority, who have made the prime minister their willing hostage, so strongly desire.”

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In the Netherlands, de Volkskrant said the danger of the UK leaving the EU on 29 March without an agreement had, on balance, probably decreased. But it noted that the prime minister’s pledges had been made solely to ward off the threat of dozens of frontbench resignations.

Would the tactic work? “The lower house will now vote on May’s deal, no deal and an extension on 12, 13 and 14 March respectively,” the paper said, adding ominously: “The following day is the ides of March – the day on which Romans settled their debts. And the day Julius Caesar was murdered.”

In Spain, El País said it had been a question of “choosing the lesser of two evils, and Theresa May has decided to renounce her chief negotiating weapon in Brussels in order to avoid a crisis that would have done away with whatever remains of her authority”.

The prime minister was “a master of the art of defending both one thing and its opposite”, the paper said, and was again trying to buy time. ABC’s Enrique Serbieto said differences in the UK parliament were “so deep that nothing guarantees a deal that hasn’t attracted agreement so far will manage to secure it within a few weeks.”

Germany’s Die Zeit said British politics were “suddenly moving again”. Jeremy Corbyn had given way on a second referendum, it said, while May had promised parliament votes on a no deal and a “short, temporary” delay to Brexit.

“With all these concessions, key players are pulling back from their hitherto fixed positions,” the paper said. “So has reason returned? No. It’s scarier than that.” May’s offer of a vote on an extension to article 50 was purely tactical, it reckoned.

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“This is just window dressing. She is ready to agree only to a short-term extension of article 50 – which the government would have had to ask for anyway in order to ensure there is time to ratify the deal. It is not necessarily a change of policy.”

The Estonian daily Postimees focused on the publication of the government’s report on a no-deal Brexit, saying that by the government’s own admission, crashing out without an agreement would lead to “an economic disaster that would severely hamper business activity and the quality of life of ordinary people”.

The UK “is not ready to leave the European Union on 29 March, such an exit will cost British businesses at least £13bn, and there will be major disruptions to supply chains as well as food shortages”, the paper said.

Sweden’s Aftonbladet observed in an editorial that the new Independent Group of MPs were justified in claiming, in their slogan, that British politics is broken. “Within the ruling Conservative party, there is no majority for any of the exit options that can be accepted by the EU,” the paper said.

“In parliament, there is no support for country crashing out without an agreement. What MPs could perhaps agree on is a kind of soft, Norway-style Brexit – but that would probably mean the defenestration of Theresa May, so no chance there.”

There was, the Swedish paper concluded, “much to indicate that there will be no EU exit for the UK at the end of March. But the problem that is Brexit is going to plague British politics for a very long time to come.”

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