Germany has, like all countries in Europe, been watching events unfold in Britain closely. With headlines like “Brexshit” and “May’s Brexit Drama”, the focus has been on the chaos that’s taken over Westminster, a place that Germany used to think was built on pragmatism and reasoning.
On top of ridiculing events in satirical shows, laughing hysterically at House of Commons speaker John Bercow and his “order, order” moments, and making fun of Brexit during carnival celebrations, some commentators in Germany have also taken a more sombre note to describe what’s been happening in the UK.
“Brexit teaches us that democracy needs leadership,” wrote Reinhold Michels in the Rheinische Post on Friday, March 29th, the day the UK had planned to leave the bloc.
“Brexit shows us there was hardly any leadership by the elected government” but plenty of persuasion by “brazen chatterboxes” like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, Michels said. “We must learn from this.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine on Friday led with: “Is there an end to the madness?”
Meanwhile, the Süddeutsche Zeitung focused its attention on Boris Johnson, calling him “one of the worst turncoats in British politics,” after he announced he would support May’s deal.
'The plot gets better'
Earlier in the week, Der Spiegel had been calling it “May’s Brexit Drama.” Many regional German newspapers have also been following the story, calling it “Brexit chaos”.
In a commentary piece published before the vote on Wednesday, Spiegel's Kevin Hagen said: “The UK is on the brink of the most important political event in post-war history – and absolutely nothing is clear. Is there a deal with the EU? When will the British leave? Will they leave at all?”
Bild, Germany’s biggest selling daily, were calling it “the next act in the Brexit drama — and the chaos has become even more confusing!”
Meanwhile, Zeit compared the drama to a TV series. “Most series flatten out after the second or third season, Brexit is different,” wrote Matthias Krupa. “The longer the series lasts, the better the plot becomes. The greatest episode so far came on Wednesday night.”
“Theresa May, the unfortunate protagonist of this story, has undoubtedly done a lot wrong,” he added. “But parliament is no wiser than the Prime Minister – that is the first lesson to be learnt from this vote. The second is that the political crisis that’s unfolding in Britain extends beyond Brexit.”
He added that it has “shaken the traditional order”.
'Europe is the answer'
It’s not just newspapers that have been commenting on Brexit. The centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have even used Brexit in their campaign ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.
“Brexit?” one of their poster reads, with a picture of Boris Johnson dangling in the sky carrying Union Jack flags. “Europe is the answer,” it continues, with “come together” written at the top.
Lars Klingbeil of the SPD tweeted: “What happens when populists get involved? Chaos. Our message to British citizens is clear: the door remains open for you. For us, Britain is part of the European Union.”
Was passiert, wenn Populisten mitmischen: Chaos. Unsere Botschaft an die britischen Bürgerinnen und Bürger ist klar: Die Tür für euch bleibt offen. Großbritannien gehört für uns zur Europäischen Union. #Europaistdieantwort #brexit pic.twitter.com/V90PsEBDJs
— Lars Klingbeil ?? (@larsklingbeil) March 28, 2019
Last year there were comments by British media that Brexit was not making enough headlines on the continent. It's true that Britain's exit wasn't a top priority in Germany – but that changed after May received her first rejection in November last year.
And since the start of this year, newspapers across Germany have been leading with the story of Brexit frequently.
As we reported, on January 16th after MPs had voted against May’s plan, daily newspaper Bild ran with the headline: “Was für ein Brexshit!” (What 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.