My latest piece in the Guardian.
It is official: Brexit is boring – at least on the continent. As the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, delivered his “state of the union” address on Wednesday, setting the tone for the new political year, Brexit was relegated to a brief mention at the end. And even there, it was framed as a moment of sadness and regret, not horror. In last week’s TV encounter between the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her challenger, Martin Schulz, Brexit was totally absent.
The European press is increasingly uninterested as well. Checking the online home pages of four leading European newspapers on 12 September (FAZ, Le Monde, El País, and Corriere della Sera), there were only five stories about Brexit. The shock and fear are ebbing away. Nowadays continental papers talk about Brexit only to give factual updates or express bemusement at the apparent confusion on the UK side.
Contrast this with the UK press. On the very same 12 September, four UK papers (the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times and the Independent) had a total of 26 stories on Brexit on their home pages. In fact, the country’s political class has discussed little else since the referendum.
Unsurprisingly to those who said so, it turns out that Brexit has countless implications. It has become by far the UK’s most significant foreign, economic and political decision since Britain entered the common market, in 1973.
The government, MPs and pundits continue to debate myriad options. Should there be a transition? Should the UK stay in the single market, or the customs union? What to do about the land border in Ireland? And some, such as Tony Blair, are even suggesting the UK might reverse Brexit while still limiting freedom of movement.
These are all live arguments, both within and between the major political parties. But they have one common denominator: these are basically domestic debates about the stance the UK should take in negotiations. They ignore the EU side and the reality of the possible options – and this is several months after negotiations have officially begun.