The EU is speaking of friendship but has given the Britons an occasional glimpse of possible torture that lies in wait. The Brexit divorce could still hurt, but a compromise is possible, says DW's Bernd Riegert.
From now on, the motto is: European Union first. The British government will have to get used to the fact that the remaining 27 EU member states want their own interests to prevail in Brexit negotiations. Britain can no longer bank on the club's indulgence. It will be really tough - there should be no illusions about that.
British Prime Minister Theresa May's whining about a conspiracy of the EU against the Britons is plain silly. Britain wants to force its interests through, too - but alone, without allies. The EU wants to set the timetable and the content of negotiations: first the divorce, then the bill, then the future trade agreement. Britain would much rather reverse that order, complains Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
But the EU has the whip hand. For economic reasons, Britain needs good relations with the EU more urgently than the other way round. If the Britons don't play along, the EU can simply wait it out, as the exit now proceeds automatically. After March 29, 2019, Britain is out, with or without an agreement, unless the EU unanimously agrees to stop the process. This is not a good starting point for the British negotiating team.
The only leverage remaining for London would be the "hard Brexit," in which the Britons simply go without settling any kind of bill. The EU would no longer be able to compel them to pay up - who would there be to enforce such a thing?
Of course, relations between the recalcitrant islands and the suspicious continent would be damaged for years, if not decades, after such a "hard Brexit." EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and the Britons living in Europe would become part of the stakes in the Brexit roulette. For this reason, both sides, which are now demanding the maximum, will ultimately agree on a typically European compromise. Interests will be balanced out. The Brits will pay something. The Europeans will give them access to their market and political cooperation. In the end, Britain will have a similar status with relation to the EU as Norway or Switzerland.
It is probably true that the British prime minister will be given a mandate for a moderate Brexit in parliamentary elections in June. But one thing is already clear: As in life, divorce will hurt one side or the other. It is fairly apparent who will suffer more. The UK is buying into the illusion of a kind of new sovereignty that in a globalized world of division of labor and close political networking is a model of yesteryear.
For Britain, a time of insecurity is dawning. The government has to negotiate terms of free trade and market access not just with an unusually unified EU, but also, after the Brexit, with over 100 more countries. The outcome of these negotiations is uncertain. So far, Britain was connected with these countries through the EU. The idea that the world is just waiting for a Britain that has been freed of its European chains, as Foreign Secretary Johnson believes, is likely to be another illusion.
If Brexit supporters now find that everything is not running as well as they mendaciously said it would during their campaign, it is apparent to them who is solely to blame: Brussels! They are already busy working on the absurd legend that the EU - led by Germany - has conspired against the brave Britons.
Do you have something to say? Please leave your comment below.