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Brexit Diaries 39: The departure of Airbus?

Airbus getting ready to fly away, Brexit means "f– business," the rebels that are pussycats and rediscovering John Podsnap.

"In the absence of any clarity, we have to assume the worst-case scenario," Airbus CEO Tom Williams said last week. "It is the dawning realization that we now have to get on with it."

Airbus is the biggest company so far threatening the British government about Brexit. With factories in France, Spain, Germany and Britain,  the aerospace giant employs 14,000 people in the UK, supports a further 110,000 jobs and generates 1.7 billion pounds in tax revenues. It is a veritable European success story.

But the managers of Airbus UK are now losing patience. Williams wants to protect the company against the fallout of a hard Brexit and has started to make preparations just in case the delivery chain is interrupted. Airbus has already frozen further investment at its UK plants and threatens to leave the country altogether should London not come to a satisfactory agreement with the EU.

Airbus fears additional costs of up to a billion pounds per year if Theresa May cannot push through more moderate views about alignment with the EU customs union and the internal market. The irony is that in the town of Stevenage, where Airbus produces the high-tech wings for its planes, 59 percent of voters supported Brexit. They somehow did not foresee this outcome. Now anxiety is rampant. 

Further bad news came two days later from BMW. The carmaker employs 8,000 people in the UK and is also demanding clarity about Brexitby the end of the summer. If Britain leaves the customs union, BMW would have to stockpile parts to protect itself against "friction" on the border. That would make the company less competitive and in the end forced to leave Britain.

Theresa May wants to get her Cabinet to finally make a decision in early July. But nobody should get their hopes up. She's clearly not under any pressure. 

Boris and the F-word

The party to celebrate the Queen's birthday is usually an occasion for alcohol and jollity. But when the Belgian ambassador to the UK Rudolf Huygelen asked Boris Johnson about British business' needs after Brexit, the foreign minister – livid because companies are raining on his parade – is reported to have spluttered: "F– business." Airbus,  BMW and others are spoiling his lovely Brexit.

Boris Johnson (Reuters/H. McKay)

Boris Johnson doesn't appear all too concerned about the dignity of his office

What was planned as a feast of take-back-control-and-never-mind-the-consequences turned into an anxiety-infested doomsday scenario. And Boris Johnson heartily hates those business leaders for their lack of patriotism. Nevermind they are multinationals carrying "shareholder value" on their flag instead of the Union Jack. Everybody should muck in and make the best of a "full British Brexit." 

Boris language may sometimes be more pub than foreign office, but it's always colorful. What he fears is a sort of EU halfway house if Theresa May does not finally give in to Brexiteers' tough demands. She should not agree to a "bog roll Brexit," says Boris, that is "soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long." The foreign ministers' mind does wander in some strange directions.

The rebels show their true nature

And then there was this pitiful spectacle. The so-called pro-European Brexit rebels among the Tories raised expectations sky high: They were ready to finally inflict a painful defeat on Theresa May over the question of whether Parliament should get a meaningful vote on a no-deal Brexit. This had been voted upon before and rebel leader Dominic Grieve had backed down because of some vague promises by Theresa May. The next day, the prime minister couldn't remember any of them. So the rebels roared and got the Upper House to put the amendment back for another vote.

The moment of the final showdown came. Tempers ran high, heavily pregnant and ill MPs were wheeled into the hall because every vote would count. Then Grieve got up and declared the rebellion was off. The government had promised him that if there were still no agreement with the EU by winter, Parliament could trigger a vote calling for a delay to Brexit. This is a man who brings a legal text to a shoot out. Never mind the minor issue that the UK would need the consent of all 27 EU member states.

Grieve and friends don't have a rebellious bone in their bodies. They are not lions, they are pussycats. They are in fact as soft and cuddly as rabbits which are known as animals of little intelligence. A member of her Majesty's opposition reminded the House of a British nursery rhyme: "The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again." It's always fraught to reenact historical maneuvers. 

Dänemark Brexit-Chefunterhändler der EU Michel Barnier auf Fischkutter (Getty Images/AFP/H. Bagger)

Michel Barnier is bored so he's been traveling nonstop

Barnier's travels

In the absence of any substantial Brexit negotiations taking place in Brussels, Michel Barnier has too much free time on his hands and has taken to traveling. A few weeks ago he visited Ireland to look at the invisible borders and to reassure the Irish that the EU had their back. Last week he nipped over to the Netherlands, to check out their preparations for a hard Brexit. Normally the EU-chief negotiator appears rather dry and unimaginative. On Twitter, however, he seems to indulge in some delicious irony: 

"Dutch @Douane preparing for #Brexit. I enjoyed meeting newly recruited customs officials and discussing with managers of Customs and National Food Safety inspection operational solutions for the unfortunate consequences of Brexit."

The Netherlands are increasing the number of their customs officials by several hundred in order to cover the new borders to the UK and the harbor of Rotterdam. It's all about being prepared. 

Discover Podsnap

The Economist magazine has rediscovered Podsnap for us. He is a character in Charles Dickens' last novel which has long been relegated to the dusty shelves of English literature professors. But these days John Podsnap is getting a new lease of life in Brexit.

Zeichnung zu Charles Dickens Oliver Twist (picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library)

Charles Dickens was a close observer of human nature

He's a character who is convinced that England is the best of all possible countries and the rest of the world nothing more than a mistake. "He is embodying utter complacency, self-satisfaction and refusal to face up to unpleasant facts," explains the Oxford Dictionary. Dickens was such a clever observer of human nature.

Supposedly there is also a kind of reverse "Podsnappery" on the European side of the negotiating table. But let's talk about that another time.     

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