Brexit has been almost as over-covered by foreign media outlets as it has been by the British press. While no longer making the headlines outside of the UK, newspapers from across the world maintain their coverage of developments, and all boast at least one article to round-up the year starting along the lines of “Wow, 2016! Trump, Brexit, what happened?”

What follows is a brief rendition of the subjects and themes concerning Brexit that crop up repeatedly in the foreign press, in an attempt to understand how the ongoing Brexit drama appears from the outside looking in.


The disturbing rise in racially motivated hate crime in the UK and anti-immigrant sentiment has been covered extensively abroad, especially in countries where there is concern for expats living in the UK. The British police recorded an increase of 41% in reported hate crimes in July 2016 on the figures from the previous year, and particular attention is devoted to this in Eastern European papers. Evidence is often anecdotal, with Polish newspaper Fakt reporting that Polish students in Britain are “afraid to speak in their mother tongue” for fear of attracting negative attention.

A poignant criticism levelled by multiple news outlets is that British tabloids were responsible for stirring up and legitimising ugly xenophobic sentiment towards immigrants and mobilising this in favour of the Leave campaign. Reports have of course been made to the same effect in the British press, yet are a great deal more emotive in Europe. This stronger reaction from the continent raises the question of whether the British public are more desensitised to these messages in our mainstream media.

Incidentally, my favourite new expression while playing around with translation tools was “the yellow press” – the Spanish expression for “tabloid”.

Economic fallout

No one could predict with any certainty the economic consequences of voting for Brexit, and we still don’t have much of an idea now. Yet the economic forecast put forth by news outlets internationally has a markedly more negative emphasis than that revealed by British newspapers. Coverage abroad speaks woefully about the threat of inflation and trajectory of global growth, and has a distinctly rueful tone. Besides lamenting the future of Britain’s economy, there is a concern for respective countries’ self-interests. The Japan Times argued that Brexit may derail Japanese investments in both Britain and the EU, and the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza claimed that “everyone” in an interconnected Europe will “feel” Brexit.

Disease parallels

Likening populist anti-EU and anti-establishment sentiments to a disease threatening the body politic of Europe is perhaps the most overused analogy when referring to Brexit. Articles written from the immediate aftermath of June 23rd refer to anti-EU feeling as a virus poised to overrun the continent. The Romanian Evenimentul Zilei noted a “Brexit Epidemic!” while Germany’s Der Spiegel likened Brexit to a contagion with the potential to infect across the Channel. The rise of the populist radical right in Europe and the national elections due next year in France and Germany provide ample material with which to apply this metaphor in future.

Article 50

European reports on the UK government’s Supreme Court appeal battle are almost smug in their tone. Spanish El Pais described the “bravado” of the British government in its belief that plans for triggering Brexit could steam ahead without opposition. The perception is that of chaos in Westminster and that the government’s plans have been thrown into disarray. (In this, they may have a point.) Der Spiegel painted a picture of the Prime Minister’s strategy faltering and Süddeutsche Zeitung described the government as “Planlos” or “Plan-less”. Portuguese Expresso describes May’s hand as having been “forced” by both the Supreme Court case and pressure from Tory MEPs supporting the Labour motion to divulge government plans for leaving the EU before Article 50 is triggered. There a sense that Europe derives a grim satisfaction from the government’s present woes, although in the longterm it will do the EU no favours.

Everything and anything

It transpires that almost everything in the known universe has been affected in some way by Brexit and has been reported on by a keen journalist somewhere in the world. The press abroad covered the Unilever versus Tesco Marmite debacle with some amusement (and, in the case of the French, culinary snobbery). The point about rises in the cost of living was duly made, but fun was poked at Britain’s tastes nonetheless. Le Monde delighted in the headline “Brexit boiled Marmite”.

In the same vein, the Copenhagen Post reported concerns about the impact of Brexit on British bacon consumers. It mused that the “UK pork industry just cannot cope with the demand for bacon”, and that it might have to bear alone without access to the single market. It came to the unthinkable conclusion that Brits might just have to settle for streaky bacon instead of Danish bacon. How this calamitous warning has not been more widely reported within the UK is a mystery.

Lastly, British migrants living in Spain have uncertain futures, but Spain’s ABC noted that the Spanish tourism board is keen to ensure that British holidaymakers keep choosing Benidorm as a destination. The Spanish government faces pressure to maintain jobs in popular resorts like Benidorm, and is funding their promotion at travel fairs in Britain. Brexit has put Benidorm on the line, and we must ask ourselves if anything sacred is safe anymore.