BERLIN — It’s a pity more Brits don’t speak German. If they did, they’d appreciate just how uninterested most Germans are in Brexit. (EDIT: Personally I can state that there is not a great deal of interest in Brexit in France either. Whenever it is raised so do the eyebrows. Then the conversation quickly moves on to other matters.)
For months, a parade of British officials have been visiting Berlin, in what has so far been a vain effort to drum up interest in their plight. Inevitably, their discussions with Germans reach an awkward moment (be it a mention of the role of the ECJ, the Swiss model, or some other talking point), where it becomes clear the Germans have no idea what their guests are referring to. They nod and smile, nonetheless.
Brexit is not a political issue in Germany. No election will be won or lost because of it. Angela Merkel’s position — to walk in lock-step with France and the Commission — is not controversial, it is consensus across the political landscape.
For Berlin, Brexit is less of a negotiation than a punchline. Germans officials like to joke that Brits are quickly becoming the largest refugee group in Berlin.
They are bemused at how the British have become more literate in the minutiae of EU rules than at any time during their unlucky four decades as members of the bloc.
Few in Berlin are following the finer points of the U.K. debate, however. Boris Johnson’s recent pronouncements on clearing out “the dead bodies” in Libya and his recitation of Rudyard Kipling in Myanmar got more notice than Theresa May’s Florence speech, for example.
A prominent German commentator recently compared May to “a beetle lying on its back, kicking its legs in desperation.” Germany’s politicians have shown little inclination to help turn her back over. May’s failed back-channel effort to convince Berlin to push Michel Barnier to move Brexit talks to the next phase is only the latest example of Germany’s unwillingness to help.
“The French and the Germans have been pretty clear in what they told Barnier: The mandate he received from the European Council is about discussing phase 1,” said a senior German official.
“The Brits don’t seem to get that if we don’t come up with results in phase 1, there won’t be any moving on to other phases.”
British hopes that Berlin would eventually intervene to try and protect Germany’s industrial interests in the U.K. have proved misplaced. German auto companies are likely to take a Brexit hit. But the growth in migration of financial firms to Frankfurt has convinced Berlin that Brexit might not be as bad as many feared. For them that is.