Newspapers around the globe strive every day to explain Brexit news to their readers. But what is the broader perception of the United Kingdom in the global media?
“Britain has never had a proper, written constitution, a matter of some pride to Britons,” writes Benjamin Mueller in the New York Times.
“While Americans haggle over their rules, British politics runs on an evolving array of laws and practices, refereed by the so-called good chaps in government, with their impeccable sense of fair play. But popular faith in that approach was severely shaken this past week,” he says, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended Parliament.
“And that first shock was followed by a second, perhaps even more startling realisation: once someone starts kicking aside the conventions and customs that shape British democracy, there are surprisingly few hard and fast checks on executive authority.”
For Canada’s Globe and Mail, “British politics today is what results from the collision of an unstoppable force, an immovable object and a clown car.”
It says the unstoppable force is the dominant no-deal faction of the Conservative Party. “The immovable object is reality – the reality that a no-deal Brexit will play havoc with the economy and hurt real people; the reality that a majority of parliament and the people will not back it… And the clown car is Mr Johnson.”
Mexico’s Excelsior carries an opinion column headlined “It is the time of the common people“. Columnist Max Cortazar says the situation has reached the point where it is no longer viable to assume the current leadership in the United Kingdom will defend democratic values.
‘Like the collapse of the British empire’
In Turkey, the pro-government Sabah newspaper sees a marked and dangerous decline in Britain’s international reputation.
“With the Brexit process, Great Britain has started to project an image of an ‘unsuccessful state’ in every respect,” Bercan Tutar writes. “The Brexit process will inevitably turn into Great Britain’s demise.”
Al-Dostour, a mainstream newspaper in Egypt, sees the United Kingdom on the brink of collapse, warning the outcome of Brexit may be the “largest political defeat in the history of the kingdom since the collapse of the British Empire”.
Iranian hardline paper Resalat says the authorities are scheming to “overturn” the result of the 2016 vote, and a second referendum would “raise serious questions about democracy in Britain and Europe“.
Closer to home, the Irish Times looked at the UK’s international reputation and asked “How far can Britain fall?”
“The Brexit debacle has already left the country bitterly divided, its parliament paralysed, its influence diminished and its reputation shattered.”
Belgium’s Flemish public broadcaster VRT believes “the United Kingdom has gone topsy-turvy“. It says “centuries-old traditions and agreements are being abandoned”.
In Spain there’s a focus on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. Popular daily ABC eyes possible losses for Gibraltar’s economy, quoting a government report warning of the impact of longer waiting hours on the border.
Commentator Alain Frachon in France’s Le Monde says of the British, “pragmatism was part of their national heritage – like representative democracy, Wimbledon and fish and chips“.
“In British cousins, we admired the inverse our French passions,” he says, warning of “the delirium of ideology maintained in a climate of permanent civil war”.
Czech centre-right daily Lidove Noviny wonders “what has become of a country which used to be a model for the rule of law, rationality and healthy scepticism?”
Hungary’s Magyar Nemzet, which backs populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, declares bluntly: “The fish stinks from the head – the crisis that has been plaguing Britain for three years can be summed up in this very short sentence.”
The paper says since 2016, the UK has been locked in a stalemate. “The politicians themselves have driven the population into a maze, but no exit has yet been found. The basic, insoluble dilemma is that the people want one thing while its elected representatives want something else.”
‘Coming apart at the seams’
The New Zealand Herald runs Australian commentator Joe Hildebrand’s stinging critique of Boris Johnson’s opponents. He decries what he calls “the outrageously elitist attitude that the masses were not educated enough to know what they were voting for in the 2016 referendum and their error must be corrected by their intellectual betters”.
“Even Orwell himself would marvel that in 21st Century Britain, supposedly enlightened politicians are arguing that people should be able to vote any way they want as long as it’s the right one.”
Chinese media outlets mock what they perceive as Britain’s “so-called democracy”. The Global Times highlights pro-independence rallies in Wales and Scotland – as well as concerns over Northern Ireland – to make their point that the United Kingdom is not at all united.
Under the headline “Farewell to Empire” in Russia’s Kommersant, Fyodor Lukyanov asks “surely Monty Python’s Flying Circus has not landed in Westminster?“
Lukyanov argues: “The system of elite rule in the United Kingdom in which democratic procedures formally legitimised the preservation of power within the right hands, is coming apart at the seams. The shock of Brexit may supply the shakeup needed to put it right. The nation is finally saying farewell to the empire on which the sun never set.”