The divorce from hell, the longest separation ever, trying to live together after breaking up–however one describes the excruciating uncoupling of the United Kingdom and the European Union, one thing is sure: Europeans are starting to get a little bit tired of the whole bloody affair.
On Thursday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May bought a few more weeks to secure domestic backing for her E.U. compromise, though no one is optimistic that she will get it. French president Emmanuel Macron was so unimpressed with May’s plea he downgraded his prediction that she could pass a deal in the British Houses of Parliament to just five percent, and European Council President Donald Tusk quipped that was “too optimistic.”
Since June 23, 2016, when the people of the United Kingdom voted to exit the E.U., there has been a slow-motion panic on the Continent among Britons who’d gotten used to thinking of it more or less as their back yard, or the park next door–a place they could come and go, or hang around, pretty much as they pleased.
Now Brits living in Europe suddenly are interested in becoming legal residents, applying for citizenship in record numbers in Italy, Germany and France. They’ve finally gotten local driving licenses and legally moved their tax residences to where they actually live. Local tour operators are offering “just like the U.K.” tours to European destinations like Malta. And they've been stockpiling English treats like real tea and fancy jams and jellies.
The Castroni International food stores in Italy now have “Brexit sections” and the Taste of Britain shop in Frankfurt is doing a roaring business on pre-tariff items that are sure to be priced much higher once the break-up is final.
Britons have been making fun of themselves over their indecision for quite some time–take the bookstore that moved its post-apocalyptic fiction section to current affairs–and gallows humor has spread to the continent.
Take France’s Europe minister, Nathalie Loiseau, who joked this week that she named her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up meowing like crazy every morning because it wants to go out, but as soon as I open the door, it just sits there undecided and then looks angry when I put it outside,” she said. She later clarified that she didn’t actually own a cat, but the sentiment summed up how she, and many others, have started to feel about Brexit’s long, drawn-out farewell.
“It’s a mixture of bemusement and bewilderment,” Dutch politician Michiel van Hulten told The Guardian. “On one level it’s entertaining, great spectacle. A pantomime you can’t stop watching. As you know, we love British comedy. Except this isn’t Monty Python, it’s your politicians.”
Italy, a country that often dabbles in anti-Europe skepticism and has floated its own ideas about Italexit, has taken to gloating that, finally, Italians are no longer the laughing stock when it comes to political chaos. “It’s nice to no longer be the butt of every joke,” a popular evening television host said recently. “At least we keep our chaos to ourselves. Brexit has spread it everywhere.”
In some ways, the European Union has actually prospered from the whole Brexit debacle. A record number of Britons living in European countries have legalized their fiscal–read tax paying—status which has been good for the local coffers.
British property owners in sunny but economically challenged Italy, Greece and Spain will see big increases in property taxes when they are suddenly no longer European. In Italy, after a fire sale last summer when almost 10 percent of British property owners in Tuscany sold their property and fled, the market has stabilized and is enjoying new growth from the turnover.
Certain non-perishable goods have also seen a boom in business. The U.K. buys 35 percent of all of Italy’s prosecco sparkling wine exports and when word spread around that the fizz would be much more expensive post-Brexit, orders started to double and even triple for the producers. “This situation of uncertainty worries us, but we're confident that English citizens won’t give up this pleasure,” said Innocente Nardi, head of the local Veneto region consortium, where prosecco is made. “The main producers have made alliances with English importers to set up storage facilities in Ireland.” He said several other British distributors have been stockpiling the beverage for months to ensure Brits won't run out.
The Brexit affair has also made some pretty unlikely stars. Tusk, who said that those who promised Britons that Brexit would be easy deserve “a special place in hell” has gained a huge social media following after instagramming some pretty funny memes. In one, he shows a picture of himself with Theresa May near a banquet table laden with desserts with a cynical caption. “A piece of cake perhaps?” Tusk asks May. “Sorry, no cherries.”
In another, Tusk shows a picture of what he alleges to be a letter from a young British girl, complete with a unicorn and a request for a signed photo for her “Europe book.” The letter says, “I know we are leaving the EU but I think we should be friends.”
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has also made a mockery out of Brexit, saying this week that if the EU did grant an extension to the U.K., it would have to be time well spent. “Those months would have to produce, as an end result, an agreement from the British Parliament to the text which is before them. If that doesn't happen, and if Great Britain does not leave at the end of March, then we are, I am sorry to say, in the hands of God,” he said. “And I think even God sometimes reaches a limit to his patience.”
Whatever happens, however it happens, and whenever it may be, Europe will be glad to start talking about something else and start the process of moving on. “It’s a shitshow,” a Conservative MP told The Daily Beast last week. And Europe couldn't agree more.