Lüdenscheid - In Great Britain, the political chaos surrounding the country's planned exit from the EU - called Brexit - is apparently never ending. We spoke to Michael Streck, the Lüdenscheid-based correspondent for the Hamburg magazine Stern, about this topic and his very personal Brexit.
Mr Streck, when you sit in front of the television at home in London - how big is the chance for you of avoiding Brexit?
The chance is zero. Everything here is full of Brexit on every channel. Always and everywhere. Unless you switch to BT Sport and watch football. And even there, Brexit is occasionally talked about when Gary Lineker is in the studio. Lineker is an avowed remainer (Proponents of remaining in the EU, the ed.), And he occasionally lets that shine through. I like that by the way.
How seriously does television deal with the topic?
BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are extremely serious and good. I feel very well looked after and well informed. Sometimes it's almost painfully neutral how specifically the BBC deals with the issue. But that's their job, and they do it very professionally.
"The newspapers are now personally offended"
How does that compare with the daily newspapers?
There are big differences in the weighting. Among other things, Brexit has to do with the fact that the British mood was driven against Europe for decades, primarily by the conservative newspapers. The Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Daily Telegraph have set the agenda for more than 40 years. That seeped into British DNA at some point.
Yes. This is still the case today. The newspapers, especially the conservatives, have massively fueled this anti-European course and are now personally offended that the whole thing is postponed.
Why has there been this anti-European sentiment in Britain for decades?
That certainly has something to do with the island location. The British have never defined themselves as part of Europe. You are still talking about the “continent”.
"The euro skepticism also remained"
But isn't that the only reason?
No, this is also due to the fact that Great Britain was blocked twice - especially by the French - in the 1960s when it wanted to join the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the EU. That hurt the British. They then joined the EU on January 1, 1973, but even then many were dissatisfied with it. Many people forget that there was a vote on the whereabouts only a good two years later. They stayed, but the skepticism about Europe also remained.
Then why did they stay in the EU at all?
That was a cost-benefit calculation. The British never saw the EU as a major political project and its beauty recognized, as we continental Europeans are used to. For them the community was an economic purpose association. For many of them it is actually completely alien to the fact that one can be happy about the euro and open borders.
Napoleon: "The British are shopkeepers"
The British as cool calculators?
Yes, Napoleon recognized that. He called them a people of the souls of the shopkeeper. He wasn’t completely wrong.
How did the referendum on Brexit come about?
It was a decision made by the then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron out of internal party interests. He wanted to pacify the Eurosceptics in his own party. The shot went backwards. Because he had never, ever expected that the voters would really vote for Brexit.
"Cameron totally screwed up the campaign"
A huge tactical mistake?
Naturally. Actually, Cameron had only included this referendum in his election manifesto in the belief that he would not win the 2015 elections so clearly and that his coalition partner, the Liberals, would not even allow the vote. Then he unfortunately won the election with an absolute majority and couldn't get out of this number. Cameron completely screwed up the campaign to stay in the EU.
How did the Brexit proponents subsequently manage to get the majority of Britons behind them?
They picked people up with more emotions than numbers. And they promised the people the blue of the sky, most of the sheer nonsense. The result was not so much a rejection of Europe, but rather a wiping of its own elites. It was also and above all a protest election.
You have lived in London for five years. How do you personally experience this time as a German, as a continental European? Do you feel aversions?
No, the British view of Germany has really changed fundamentally. It was like a cartoon for a long time. The German was either, as in old black and white films, a dumb Nazi. Or he was a Bavarian in lederhosenwho ate bratwurst and sauerkraut all the time and drank beer from mugs.
Free beer for the old enemy
Absolutely. Among other things, the 2006 World Cup made a significant contribution to this. The British experienced at the time that we Germans can even be very funny. The weather was good, the football was good. It was one party. Many English people have come back with a completely new image of Germany.
Yes, this new image of the Germans has indeed established itself and has been underpinned. For example, there were exhibitions about Germany here in the British Museum. I remember sitting in a bar after winning the soccer World Cup in 2014 and many guests congratulating us and serving beers when they heard we were Germans. Fortunately, these old resentments against Germans have disappeared.
Your wife Annette grew up in London. How did she experience the behavior of the English towards the Germans in the 1970s and 1980s?
It was completely different from today. She went to the German school. It was common practice for English children on school buses to greet Germans with “Heil Hitler”. The German kids were told to keep the ball very flat. Your headmaster said: "You are ambassadors here too."
"Racism increased significantly"
What about the Europeans of other nations who live in London?
I think my image of the British would not be so positive if I had a Bulgarian or Romanian passport. I keep hearing bad things. The racism against people from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria has increased significantly. And then when you ask people about it, it always says: “We don't mean you!” - that is, the Germans, Italians or French. When it comes to such a discussion, I get pretty bitchy and say: Wait a minute, there are no differences!
Do you know any Brexit advocates in your private environment who regret their yes today?
It's not that all Brexiteers are crazy racists or stupid. I know many advocates who can explain their yes conclusively and comprehensibly. You see yourself as Europeans, but you have a problem with the institution of the EU. And it is also obvious that the EU has weaknesses. However, these proponents simply did not have the chaos that has now unfolded on their radar. In this respect, they regret their yes.
What did they expect?
That everything would go better and faster. And that could well have worked. But with Theresa May the wrong woman was in the wrong place.
"Mood will not calm down"
Will the public mood calm down a little after the postponement of Brexit?
That will not calm down for many years. The country is extremely divided. The whole atmosphere is still toxic in this regard. What we are experiencing right now is just the prelude to what comes afterwards.
If there are already such big disagreements with the exit and its date - how is that supposed to happen when the contracts have to be negotiated in the transition phase? I don't even like to imagine that. There are people who say: it will take at least a generation. With the exit itself nothing is wrapped up yet. It is only the beginning of a very long, tough and possibly very unsavory phase of negotiations with the Europeans.
"Already affecting the pound"
Crash effects of Brexit noticeable in the economy?
As consumers, we don't really notice that yet. But banks are pulling their people out and automakers like Toyota and Nissan are closing their plants. BMW may want to relocate the production of the Mini back to the continent. The upcoming Brexit is already having an impact on the pound.
Do people keep hoarding all sorts of things, as they did for a while?
Since Parliament has now ruled out a hard exit, that will decline. There is no longer any need to hoard any medication or food. That was a bit of a fad too. Many of the people who did that don't even talk to the press anymore because they've been dragged through the cocoa so nicely.
Your wife knows England from her youth as the poor house of Europe. Is she afraid history will repeat itself in this regard?
Not that, but since the discussion about Brexit, she has lost some of her trust in this country. Even though she has a German passport, she always felt like a British woman and did not recognize her own country immediately after Brexit.
"We will miss an incredible amount here"
You and your wife will be leaving London this summer as contractually agreed. Are you nostalgic?
With all the pain of leaving, this situation, this theater in Westminster, actually makes it a little easier to say goodbye. We will miss an incredible amount here: the culture, this wonderful mix of peoples in London, the great humor and this British nonchalance. But these political noses - these Theresa Mays and Boris Johnsons and whatever their names are - we definitely won't miss them.
And when will the British go - from the EU?
That might take another year. Behind the scenes, work is being done to ensure that parliament takes power and works across party lines on a compromise on the exit. This is currently the most likely solution, but cannot be achieved within three months.
"The British still need foreigners"
Should the Germans now living in Great Britain leave the country as quickly as possible?
Just don't! So much will not change for the three million EU foreigners who live here. It was signaled to them relatively quickly: "Don't worry!" For example, we will also apply for a so-called settled status. This means that we can continue to live here without any problems and also keep our work permit. The British still need foreign doctors, nurses or engineers. It won't be that dramatic.
The last question: was Asterix right? Are they crazy, the British?
At the moment they are crazy, especially the politicians. You have to say that. Otherwise not really. They are wonderfully eccentric, humorous and very amiable people. Even Brexit won't break that.
Born in Lüdenscheid, Michael Streck has been the UK correspondent for the Hamburg magazine Stern, based in London, since 2014. The 55-year-old has worked for Stern since 1996 and was a correspondent in New York from 2001 to 2008. Streck is married and has two grown daughters. He learned the journalistic trade in the 1980s at Lüdenscheider Nachrichten.