Germany: More Lenient on Brexit?
An email dialogue between London and Berlin.
August 3, 2017
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the International Business Editor of The Daily Telegraph, certainly believes strongly in the Brexit maneuver. Inside the Brexit camp, he also stands out as one of the smartest and truly internationally minded British journalists.
The transcript below is a verbatim record of a fascinating email exchange between Ambrose and Stephan Richter, our Editor-in-Chief, who is now based in Berlin. If anything, the recent exchange underscores the depth of what is fast becoming a true continental divide.
4:40 PM, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote:
I get the sense that Sigmar Gabriel and Schäuble both want to lower the temperature on Brexit and reach a solution. But maybe that is wishful thinking.
4:56, Stephan Richter wrote:
It is wishful thinking.
The fact of the matter is that German elites, for good reason, have always had the highest admiration for the strategic thinking and the pursuit of self-interest as displayed by UK elites.
That is why basically no one here can believe what’s going on. The UK’s Brexit strategy, which includes the joker Jeremy Corbyn, begs utter disbelief. It’s not because anyone here would want to punish the UK, as is often argued in London.
Rather, it is that nobody in the UK can expect reasonable, market-oriented people on the continent to fall over backwards to support a completely untenable position – literally along the famous “have your cake and eat it, too” lines.
German politicians are just too nice to ever say such a thing out loud. And they are scared, because they realize that Britain, having lost its sense of realism and/or wanting to exit the EU, will put incredible leadership pressure on Germany.
Mark my forecast: Any rational German politician, without saying so, is just playing the negotiating game to make sure that the UK in the end does not depart from the EU.
That’s a legitimate position, not least because current UK polls also begin leaning in that direction.
Not because we are arrogant or imposing. Just because it does not make any sense, especially for the UK itself, as well as for the rest of Europe.
5:32 PM, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote:
This is where there could be an error on the Continental side.
The Referendum has been held. To try to reverse it risks a civil war here in the UK. The swing you describe is not really happening.
The debate is now about the shape of Brexit – i.e., hard or soft. On that point, there can be a lot of changes. The door could be reopened on an EEA (European Economic Area) application or something similar.
Liberal Brexiteers and Remainers together command a potential majority on softening the terms. But Liberal Brexiteers will not combine with Remainers to overturn the referendum.
It is the other way round. The Releavers (that is, Remainers who now agree that Brexit must go ahead) are about 20% of the vote.
Pushing too hard to get the Brits to change their mind will lead to a failed deal. Britain would of course be hurt very badly.
So would the EU in many complex ways (Would Ireland remain in the EU for long in those circumstances? who knows?). (What would happen to NATO, already losing Turkey?).
And as you say, Germany inherits an hegemony it does not want, and that is extremely damaging to German interests.
Better to avoid testing all of this.
6:37 pm, Stephan Richter wrote:
That’s all fine. It’s not a matter of misjudging on the German side. It’s a matter of hoping that the UK won’t base its future on a reed, as it seems hell-bound to do.
Nobody can help save a nation that wants to march down a specific road. If the UK wants to harm itself – and in essence act like late imperial Germany – we know from history that there is nothing to keep them from it. With one significant difference: This is now the early 21st century, not the late 19th.
And with the deteriorating economy, the UK will tear at the seams. Nobody within will be happy.
6:49 PM, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote:
You keep using the term if. The decision was made a year ago. It is irreversible.
If there was a mistake, it was made long ago when Cameron called a referendum.
7:43 pm, Stephan Richter wrote:
I used the term “if” with regard to “if the UK wants to harm itself.” For me, that’s still hard to swallow, for you that appears to be a given. Worse, to me, that answer is rooted in “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders” (here I stand, I can do no other) old-style German ideology, not British pragmatism.
Not to mention that the result was fraudulently obtained.
The role of friends is to warn one’s friends of necessary self-mutiliation. As with the launch of the self defeatist Iraq War, which I stood up against on U.S. TV very publicly in the early 2000s, I see this as a terrible parallel.
It’s as if the UK wants to celebrate a national self-flogging festival (I forgot what holy day in the Shiite calendar that is).
8:19 PM, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote:
A civil war would be much more harmful.
Those who wish to minimize the harm for all parties are pushing for something akin to the EEA.
I still don’t understand why you think that it is a bad way to conduct Brexit, or why that makes matters worse. It self-evidently reduces the potential damage.
The country is bitterly divided, but that is the nature of the issue. Reversing Brexit would merely deepen those divisions in a dangerous fashion.
The pragmatism being shown is the exact opposite of what you seek. It is Remainers coming to terms with the fact that they lost an historic vote.
The Brits are not celebrating anything. They are stoically dealing with the difficult fact that the EU has been evolving in such a way that it is not really compatible with our parliamentary democracy and the Common Law.
The fact that the country is so evenly split makes it more painful. Nobody is enjoying this. These sorts of ruptures are traumatic.
But you cannot pretend that the vote never happened. I am surprised that this is not obvious to you.
Once you get into allegations of fraud, you are going completely off the rails. Nobody of any influence here has even suggested such a thing. The government and the political establishment were desperately trying to engineer a Remain vote in any case.
Your warning about self-mutilation is well-taken but the horse bolted thirteen months ago.
Stephan, let us leave it at that. I think we are poles apart on this.
8:26 PM, Stephan Richter wrote:
Remember this though: An-EEA like deal effectively means taxation without representation. To me, that runs against the entire grain of British history.
The UK's Brexit strategy, which includes the joker Jeremy Corbyn, begs utter disbelief.
The Referendum has been held. To try to reverse it risks a civil war here in the UK.
The debate is now about the shape of Brexit – i.e., hard or soft. On that point, there can be a lot of changes.
An-EEA like deal means taxation without representation. That runs against the entire grain of British history.