European newspapers and broadcasters have reacted with surprise to the scale, if not the fact, of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Commons defeat on her Brexit deal.
Although few are willing to predict what happens next, many expect a delay to the 29 March deadline for Britain to leave the European Union.
‘A new dynamic’
In France, the centre-left daily Le Monde calls the defeat “more stinging than the most alarming prediction”, and wonders whether Mrs May can “survive politically, as cosmetic operations will not be enough to change MPs’ minds”.
“This launches a new dynamic. Anything is now possible in both the British political scene and the future of Brexit”
The centre-right Figaro says the “most important defeat in the history of British parliamentary democracy has plunged the country a little deeper into chaos” – a point also made by the left-wing daily Liberation.
Le Figaro turns its attention to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying the best way for him to avoid a second Brexit referendum would be to “start talks with Theresa May on reaching a compromise”.
“This seems improbable, but in times of crisis nothing is off the table,” the paper says.
Liberation remarks that the “unprecedented scale of May’s defeat would have resulted in her immediate resignation in normal circumstances, but since the Brexit referendum more than two and a half years ago Britain… no longer lives in normal circumstances”.
Munich’s centre-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung says Britain “has become rather ungovernable”. It sees Mrs May taking her “brutal defeat stoically”, but wonders where she intends to go with Brexit.
The centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is also reduced to musing that “it will be interesting to see what happens next”.
The centre-right Die Welt sees little immediate prospect of a stable response in Downing Street. In answer to the question “quo vadis Britannia?” (“Where are you marching, Britain?”) it thinks Mrs May will be “counting on pragmatism from Brussels”.
There is some sympathy for Theresa May’s predicament.
Vienna’s centre-right Die Presse praised her “unperturbed and well prepared” response to defeat, adding that “no one could blame her for not fighting to the last second… for her political survival”.
But other commentators are far less forgiving.
Begona Arce in Spain’s El Periodico says Mrs May “achieved the impossible, by managing to unite the Conservatives with the opposition against the Brexit plan. It is a colossal failure after almost two years of negotiations”.
Sebastian Borger in Austria’s centre-left Der Standard agrees that Mrs May’s “bitter defeat was well deserved” as she had “put party interests before the country”.
“When the difficult situation in Ireland in particular should have made her soften her plans, she still tried to ingratiate herself with the enemies of the EU in her own party, but to no avail,” he says.
In the Republic of Ireland itself, Pat Leahy of the Irish Times expects that Article 50 will now “be paused to allow parliament to give its view, and for the EU to respond”.
The Irish Examiner’s Gerard Howlin agrees that nothing is clear beyond the possible postponement of Britain’s departure on 29 March. He sees the “end of the beginning of Brexit”, but warns that the “beginning of the end is not in sight yet”.
‘Time almost up’
Theresa May should not count on concessions from the European Union, according to Italy’s La Stampa, which leads on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warning that “time is almost up”.
The paper adds that Brussels is “also preparing for a no-deal Brexit by approving 14 temporary measures”.
In Poland, Rzeczpospolita’s Artur Bartkiewicz fears that “the time left is physically not enough for parliament to adopt even the basic measures to avoid economic catastrophe”.
The Dutch public broadcaster NOS does not see much chance of a postponement to the 29 March departure day, either.
It says all 27 EU countries would have to agree, and “not everyone is keen on letting Britain keep tweaking an agreement that will not make it through the House of Commons anyway”.
At least the Dutch centre-left Volkskrant daily thinks Mrs May will live to fight another day.
It says she should survive the no-confidence vote, despite the “greatest political crisis since Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament four centuries ago”, as Brexit supporters see her as the best chance of a no-deal departure – “which is ironic, given that they tried to remove her just before Christmas”.
Belgium’s centre-left daily De Morgen looks further ahead, and insists that the only way forward is to “let the British people choose how to untie this Gordian knot in a referendum”.
The Czech Republic’s Mlada Fronta Dnes has had enough. Over a cartoon of the Mr Bean comedy character, it complains that the British “are really overdoing it with their crazy humour!”