It was the biggest defeat ever suffered by a British Prime Minister in modern history. Parliament voted 432 to 202 against May's plan for taking Britain out of the EU, leaving the country”s future foggy with its legally binding departure date just 10 weeks away.
As Brexit hangs in the balance, Politicians, newspapers and commentators in Germany and Europe have been having their say on the chaotic events taking place on the island.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday that delaying Brexit beyond March 29th would make no “sense”, after a vote in London brought a crushing defeat for a withdrawal deal negotiated with the EU.
“It would only make sense (to extend the deadline) if there is a path to the goal of a deal between the EU and Great Britain,” Maas said in an interview on Deutschlandfunk public radio.
For now, “that is not the majority view in the British parliament,” he added.
British Prime Minister Theresa May also this week argued that Brexit should not be pushed back, although she did not rule it out completely.
Maas added that he was doubtful any significant improvements could be made to the draft withdrawal agreement on the table – negotiated over two years since London notified Brussels it would quit the European Union.
“We have a compromise,” Maas said. “If more could have been offered, it would have been done weeks ago.”
The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician added that he hoped a no-confidence vote Wednesday fails to topple May's government.
“We need a stable government for the negotiations,” he said.
Maas also tweeted to say the ball is now in the UK's court. He added that it isn't clear what the UK wants, “only what it doesn't want”, and mentioned Germany's preparations for the event of a deal and a no-deal.
“In Germany, we have passed two major legislative packages in order to be prepared for everything. But: we hope for reason,” he added.
In Sachen #Brexit ist das Vereinigte Königreich jetzt am Zug. Es ist gestern nicht klar geworden, was sie wollen – nur, was sie nicht wollen. In Deutschland haben wir zwei große Gesetzespakete verabschiedet, um auf alles vorbereitet zu sein. Aber: Wir hoffen auf Vernunft.
— Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) January 16, 2019
'Bitter day for Europe'
Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday the defeat of British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal in parliament was a “bitter day for Europe”.
“This is a bitter day for Europe. We are well prepared – but a hard Brexit would be the least attractive choice, for the EU and GB (Great Britain),” said Scholz, who is also finance minister.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU party and her likely successor, tweeted that she “deeply regretted” the British decision.
“A hard Brexit will be the worst of all options,” she said, urging the British people to “not rush” into anything.
— A. Kramp-Karrenbauer (@akk) January 15, 2019
Germany's Minister of State for European Affairs Michael Roth called the outcome a “disaster” but added: “The doors of Europe remain open.”
Dietmar Bartsch, of the Die Linke (the Left), tweeted that “madness has taken hold” in London.
In London hat sich abermals der Wahnsinn durchgesetzt, der die Briten in blindem Antieuropäismus lieber ins Chaos als geordnet aus der #EU führen wird. Die Antwort auf den #Brexit muss lauten: Wir bauen #Europa zu einer Sozialunion um, mit der sich die Bürger identifizieren.
— Dietmar Bartsch (@DietmarBartsch) January 16, 2019
Newspapers across Germany led with the story. 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”.
It added: “In Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May has humiliatingly lost her most important vote – but that doesn't mean she's being chased out of office by the same large majority today. So she is stalking London like a political undead.
“It is sad to see the future of such a proud Great Britain being blown away.”
The Frankfurter Rundschau ran with a photo of British comedy character Mr Bean and a Hamlet quote: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.” The colloquial version is: “There's method in the madness.”
Splash on today's Frankfurter Rundschau. Quoting Hamlet: “Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.” pic.twitter.com/WWrjIUo70m
— Kate Lyons (@MsKateLyons) January 16, 2019
The Frankfurter Allgemeine ran with the headline: “Und, Jetzt?!” – “Now what?!”
Meanwhile, in an opinion piece, the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung didn't hold back.
“There is no glue that can be used to reassemble the British political system, which has disintegrated into a thousand splinters,” it said.
“Theresa May has suffered a brutal defeat, her plan to implement the citizens' Brexit wish has failed. But: the Prime Minister accepts this defeat as part of the show, only to march on stoically. But where does she actually want to go?”
'No room for renegotiation'
If May wins the vote of no confidence she will likely want to go back to EU partners to see if she can amend the deal.
Reinhard Bütikofer, head of the Green Party in Europe, said he couldn't see any more room for renegotiation.
“The alternatives are hard, but inevitable: either Article 50 will be withdrawn – with or without a new referendum – or there will be a hard Brexit of the worst kind,” Bütikofer said in Brussels.
Nicola Beer, the pro business Free Democrat's lead candidate for the European elections, called for a special EU summit within 48 hours.
Beer told DPA: “The situation in Britain and the EU after Theresa May's defeat after the vote is dramatic. The EU must react immediately”.
She said that “steps the EU can take to ensure that there is an orderly Brexit and that as close a relationship as possible between the EU and Britain can then develop” should be a priority.
Federal Justice Minister Katarina Barley of the centre left Social Democrats, also rejected the idea of renegotiations.
She told the Funke Group newspapers that the UK must ensure stability. “We support Great Britain on its way, but there will be no renegotiations of the agreement,” she said.
At the same time she warned that a disorderly withdrawal would have “dramatic consequences for Britain, for Germany and for Europe”. Barley herself has a British passport. “I have been British since birth and will remain so,” she added.