German politicians have been understandably fired up about Boris Johnson’s plan to breach the Brexit treaty. While the relationship between the two countries already suffered during the Brexit negotiations, allies of chancellor Angela Merkel are astonished by Johnson’s recent actions. They believe that the UK will become an unreliable partner if the treaty will be broken. However, one lawmaker from Merkel’s Christian Democrats went a step too far in condemning Britain.
Backbencher Detlef Seif has made some waves in recent times with his statements on Brexit and EU politics. But nothing is likely to surpass his comment this week as to what is unfolding across the North Sea. Seif, who is the Brexit rapporteur for the parliamentary group of Merkel’s conservatives, said:
‘The United Kingdom was for me, in the past, always a state that upheld the rule of law and with which one could negotiate. But with this behaviour, Britain is joining the ranks of despots and regimes like those in Russia, Turkey, China and North Korea. I don’t think Britain wants to be included in that group, but it has earned that classification.’
Whatever you might think of Johnson’s plan, it is hard even for the most fervent anti-Brexiteer to support such a comparison. As a result, Seif’s comment has gone largely ignored in Germany. But those in Germany with a fondness for Britain – even after Brexit – are likely to view his comment as an unacceptable insult, unworthy of a country that usually praises itself for preserving decency in international politics.
The importance of this single German lawmaker should not, of course, be overestimated. Unless it comes from Merkel, a senior member of her government or the party leadership, it is only another politico trying to get attention and failing to show diplomatic restraint. However, what Seif’s comment indicates is that some on the continent, especially the UK’s biggest trading partners, have become exasperated with Johnson. For the PM, of course, this might not necessarily be a bad thing: his supporters could easily interpret as a sign that he puts up a good fight in negotiations.
In these final crunch months in Brexit talks, neither side wants to give up one inch, leading to such rhetoric and a situation in which no one can backpedal without losing face. Thankfully, Seif does not decide the fate of British-European relations. Brits insulted by his comparison are better off ignoring him.
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