German voters have been left unmoved by Theresa May’s plea for the UK to remain in the single market during a transition period as she set out her vision for Brexit two days before the country was due to go the polls.
In a landmark speech in Florence, Italy, Ms May said existing market arrangements should continue to apply during a period of about two years after Brexit is to come into effect on 29 March 2019.
But in Potsdamer Platz, at the heart of Berlin’s business district, voters were not impressed with Ms May’s proposition of a transition period effectively delaying the UK’s departure from the union.
Christian Brandt told The Independent: “I would like to see the UK leave the EU on 29 March 2019 with a settled deal or no deal at all and they will have to face the consequences. The UK should be made an example of as a warning to other countries who would be tempted to leave the union. It sounds hard but that’s what the EU should do.”
Peter, 63, agreed: “I think that if the UK wants to leave the single market they should do it and they should do it now. Otherwise, we will see toing and froing for the next 50 years. Theresa May cannot demand too much from the EU. Personally, I think the UK should have stayed in the EU and in the single market.”
Although Germany’s federal election on Sunday has not made for an exciting political campaign, many voters have not found greater interest in the Brexit negotiations with many confident upcoming challenges will be greater for the UK than for the EU.
For 33-year-old Manuel, on a visit to Berlin from Dresden where he lives, Ms May’s Florence speech was nothing to shout about. “I didn’t know about the speech. I think Brexit is more of a problem for the UK than it is for the EU, so I don’t really care. They signed up to a set of rules, if they don’t want to play by these rules they have to face the consequences.”
“Whatever it takes for the UK to leave, we should do it,” said 56-year-old Andreas Jerke. “The UK decided to leave and they must now face the consequences. I don’t think any of this will damage the EU but it will damage the UK and it will be expensive too,” he added.
Newspapers across Europe, including Die Zeit, Le Monde, Repubblica and El Pais all singled out Ms May’s demand for a transitional period.
German newspaper Die Zeit’s headline “A transition period without a plan” summarised commentators’ reaction that the speech was void of concrete propositions to make the negotiations move forward.
Italy’s La Repubblica said that while the PM had created an opening on the issue of EU citizens, “problems remain” with the UK’s approach.
On Twitter, social media users were also quick to criticise the lack of detail in Ms May’s speech, which failed to mention a financial settlement as part of the EU divorce bill but only guaranteeing money the UK has already committed to pay.
Jon Worth, a British citizen who lives and campaigns for the Green party in Berlin, commented on the speech: “So far, this has been even looser in its vocabulary on citizens’ rights and budget than we thought.”
Later he added: “There is so little new here. It’s quite extraordinary.”
Manfred Weber, an MEP for the conservative CSU, Ms Merkel’s sister party in Bavaria, also raised concerns at the lack of detail.
In a tweet, he said: “In substance PM May is bringing no more clarity to London’s positions. I am even more concerned now.”
This was also echoed by Lucia Puttrich, a member of the conservative CDU in Wetterau in central Germany, who said the speech stood for “perplexity” and “brought nothing new”.
For others, the mood was a bit lighter.
Daniel Brossler, the EU correspondent for German newspaper Süddentschen Zeitung, joked with the translation of the word “shared” in German, asking whether Ms May meant it in the sense of “togetherness” or “division”.
Meanwhile Tobias Heck pointed to the potentially unfortunate timing of Ms May’s speech in Florence—as Germany prepared for its federal election on Sunday, Spain was seeking to block Catalonia’s referendum and France was gripped by protest over its labour law reforms.
While European leaders are busy with challenges in their own country, Ms May can only hope her message has been heard.
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