‘New Iron Lady’: World media reacts to May’s Brexit speech

British newspapers applauded ‘hard Brexit’ stance, others in Europe rolled their eyes

Newspapers have reacted to British prime minister’s ‘hard Brexit’ speech. File photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Newspapers have reacted to British prime minister’s ‘hard Brexit’ speech. File photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

The contrast could hardly have been sharper. While Britain’s biggest newspapers cheered Theresa May’s Brexit speech, their continental counterparts rolled their eyes.

“Steel of the New Iron Lady,” the Daily Mail said on its front page, comparing the prime minister with Margaret Thatcher. The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling paper, likened the prime minister to Moses, with the headline “Brexodus”. The Times led with “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed”.

On the other side of the channel, perceptions were rather different. “Little Britain,” said Die Welt, punning on the title of the farcical British TV comedy.

Inside the paper said that “(British) tabloids - hopefully - won’t be as pleased with May as they were with her speech yesterday.” But it also warned that “the EU must not see the Brexit negotiations as a place to score political points. This is more important than that.”

“An extreme Brexit: May jumps into the void”, ran the title of the editorial in El País, the left-leaning Spanish newspaper. “From professing a limp and shameful Europeanism when she was home secretary, she has moved to backing a shameful, xenophobic nationalism,” it said, saying the EU was standing firm.

Le Monde’s correspondent in London, Philippe Bernard, sighed that the “fate of expats will probably only be fixed at the last minute.” For Libération, parts of May’s speech were close to “blackmail”.

In Italy, La Repubblica’s front page said, “London raises its wall” - and gave prominent space to the reaction from north of the border: “Scotland: it’s a catastrophe”.

Rightwing daily Il Giornale called Brexit “a slap across the face” of Europe, and Ms May’s speech “the start of a long goodbye to Europe”. But on the front page of Libero, the English journalist Nicholas Farrell said “the tide is shifting. . . against Germany and tyranny”.

Theresa May said shove off to the European circus, made in Germany,” he said.

A column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung admired Ms May’s driving, if not her destination. “She proceeded with remarkable skill. Almost unnoticed, she accustomed the British to a total farewell of Brussels, ” said the paper’s London correspondent. “Whether this is sufficient to lead the country into the uncertain post-Brexit era without social upheavals and without political setbacks will be assessed later.”

‘Weakening both sides’

Ms May had stressed that Britain wanted the EU to thrive, but the paper predicted instead “a weakening of both sides”.

“Stronger, fairer, more global - this is the triad that is meant to characterise the state and orientation of Britain after it leaves the EU. The next few years will show how realistic those goals are and how much is wishful thinking - in terms of investment decisions, trade flows, exchange rates, growth rates. . . Firm faith will be needed to see in a future British solo act the fulfilment of Britain’s national interest and not a weakening of both sides. But that’s what we’re heading for,” the paper said.

“It’s sad to see that, for the Brits, the EU per se has no political value any more,” said the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “So trade figures, tariffs, customs duties will have to determine the right balance between sovereignty and connectedness to the EU.

“In a word, the formula should be the more sovereignty you want, the more you want to cut yourself off, the higher the customs duties will have to be, the more barriers there will be. That’s neither malicious nor vengeful; it’s simply a precondition for self-preservation. Whoever leaves the club must feel the disadvantages - otherwise there’s no hope for the attractiveness of the EU.

“The prime minister kept quiet about the price she’s prepared to pay for the separation. She promises her country more freedom and trade. That’s just the packaging for a decision which will also bring the Britons losses and setbacks.”

In Irish papers the overall tone of the coverage was cautiously welcoming. Yet Shane Coleman in the Irish Independent wrote that Britain had taken “a massive leap in the dark”, while former TD Lucinda Creighton wrote in the Irish Sun that Ms May clearly wanted “a really, really bad Brexit”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017