What Newspapers Across Europe Said About May’s ‘Painful’ Speech

  • Papers across EU focus on U.K. prime minister’s mishaps
  • Theresa May now symbolizes her party’s ‘misery’: FAZ

May Pranked by Comedian During Conference Speech

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s closing speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Wednesday drew continental Europe’s attention -- but not for the reasons she may have hoped for.

While the address was meant to re-energize her fractious leadership and build momentum for a domestic agenda, a prankster handing her a pink slip, a coughing fit and the literal disintegration of the party’s slogan behind the dais had European newspapers drawing parallels between the shambolic presentation and the premier’s struggling authority.

Headlines from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Handelsblatt

Source: Bloomberg

“The same Theresa May who embodied the self-confidence of a proud, bold party a year ago now symbolizes its misery,” said Germany’s high-brow newspaper of record Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an article comparing the speech to May’s previous one in Birmingham. “She was painful to listen to, even during the passages where she regained her voice. Her preacher’s tone, which wafted across Birmingham with an air of celebration, smelled rotten in Manchester.” 

The press coverage of May’s speech underscores how the perception of May in the EU’s other 27 capitals -- the U.K.’s Brexit negotiating partners -- is likely to be one of a weakened leader, stifled by the infighting and divisions that have plagued her government. It also raises doubts about whether her counterparts in the bloc have full confidence in the British premier and her authority as they prepare to meet her in two weeks at a key summit that could determine the future of divorce talks.

Brexit Talks

“The Manchester speech was supposed to be the resurrection speech; it risks becoming Theresa May’s tombstone,” wrote Milan’s Corriere della Sera. “Ministers and lawmakers are asking themselves what to do with a premier who has lost the last residue of credibility she still had left.”

Milan's Corriere della Serra ran photos of May coughing

Source: Bloomberg

May’s address comes ahead of the fifth Brexit negotiating round, which begins on Monday in Brussels, and before a meeting of heads of state and government on Oct. 19-20 also in the Belgian capital. It’s during that meeting that the British government is holding out hope that the EU will agree to move talks onto the U.K.’s future trading relationship with the bloc.

“Apart from May’s voice issues, the party conference was notable for dealing with Brexit in a manner that was both overbearing and almost pathologically negligent,” according to an editorial in Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “It’s questionable whether she has a constructive, realistic concept for a U.K. outside the EU. That’s one reason why she’s been talking about an exit without a deal: She senses that she’s lost.”

The Danish daily Politiken was also critical, saying, “if she has a new vision for Britain, she is unable to explain it,” adding that the Conservative government is “fumbling it’s self-inflicted embarrassing affair.”

‘Pull the Plug’

“Theresa’s last defeat marks the start of the ‘after-May’ period among Tories,” wrote Rome’s newspaper La Repubblica. “The problem for the Tories is deciding when to pull the plug on the premier and who to put in her place.”

Belgium's Le Soir said the speech left "a pitiful image of Theresa May"

Source: Bloomberg

The Turin, Italy newspaper La Stampa struck a more positive note, saying that May demonstrated “resilience and tenacity.” A column in France’s Liberation focused on how disastrous speeches are often quickly forgotten. “A failed speech is only a failure when the policies it promotes are no longer supported. Which does not (yet) seem to be the case on the other side of the channel,” it said.

Belgium’s Le Soir ran a picture of May coughing alongside the text: “One thing that is sure is that this speech, which those close to her called the most important of her career, leaves a pitiful image of Theresa May: that of an exhausted leader, whose voice no longer carries, both literally and figuratively.”

France’s Les Echos was equally dismissive: “Theresa May tries to regain the upper hand, but loses her voice,” read the headline.

— With assistance by Tony Czuczka

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