One of the most spectacular failings of this Brexiter government has been its inability and unwillingness to understand – even in the slightest – how our European partners (NB: not ‘opponents’ or ‘enemies’) see us. Which partly explains why the negotiations – or rather, capitulation – is going as swimmingly as it is.
Having read a good amount of European press on Brexit, I think I can make a fair assessment of what Europeans think of us Brits at the moment: clueless, arrogant, xenophobic, selfish and whiny.
There is a well-known sketch from a German political satire show which portrays the Brits as always requiring an Extrawurst. This literally translates to ‘extra sausage’ – a concept used in German to convey when someone constantly demands special treatment. We were already known for always wanting an Extrawurst when we were in the EU: no Schengen, no Euro, opt-outs for this, opt-outs for that.
But now we still want Extrawurst as we are leaving the EU: we don’t want your citizens here, we want out of the Single Market and Customs Union, we don’t want your court having jurisdiction here, you cannot tell us what to do ever again about anything, but we’d please like to stay in relevant bodies governing aviation and medicines and also please access to your single market for industries we want, like finance and automotives. But only the stuff we choose, thankyouverymuch, opt-ins for this and opt-ins for that. And ideally we will stop the EU from passing any laws we don’t like, even when we’re not in it anymore.
This behaviour has led to the coining of the phrase “ewige Extrawurst” – endless extra sausage. Basically, the Europeans are fed up with us thinking we deserve this special treatment because we are somehow better than them. They are fed up with us freeloading off the back of the EU and not pulling our weight, of wanting endless opt-outs or opt-ins and never being satisfied.
Brexit provides them with an opportunity to finally be rid of our constant demands for Extrawurst, and they will use it. They will compromise to the extent that it serves Europe’s interests – they want to continue trading with us too and will therefore draw up a good free trade agreement – but that’s it. There will be no cherry-picking, no more englische Kirschen.
I find that these perceptions are most openly and honestly expressed in the political cartoons published in European newspapers. There is the pre-referendum drawing of European leaders in a rowing boat, with Merkel, Hollande and Junker sweating furiously to keep Europe afloat, while Cameron sits at the helm of the boat in a sunlounger, telling them they need to put in more effort for him to stay.
The traditionally Anglophile Dutch have been particularly scathing in their cartoons, one shows May and Corbyn sitting in a little boat labelled ‘Brexit’ on a rough sea, both vomiting profusely, captioned ‘Britannia Rules the Waves.’ A recent one showed May being hit in the face with a tub of Unilever butter, the pack reading ‘Greetings from Holland’.
Other common Brexit cartoon themes in Europe revolve around the fact that the government does not know what it wants and is bitterly divided, and others show Britain engaging in an unbelievable act of self-harm: jumping out of a plane without the parachute the EU is offering, or cutting off various limbs in a show of misguided defiance.
But I recently came across a drawing by cartoonist Ayal Pinkus that made me want to cry, rather than laugh. It depicts a castle tower on a little island surrounded by rough sea. On the tower is a Union Jack, the tower guarded by a member of the Royal Guard. In front is a big sign that says: STAY OUT. Across the sea is the mainland, with some people looking bewilderedly at the tower, the person on top says: “And we want direct access to your free open market too.”
That is how we are viewed now. As closed and xenophobic. As a poor team player. As arrogant and selfish. As haughty. As unreasonable. As uncooperative. As always demanding an Extrawurst. How incredibly sad.