Politics

What Does Europe Think Of Brexit And The UK's Future?

Ahead of the 2019 General Election, we went to get the views of citizens living in mainline Europe.

The General Election takes place this Thursday 12 December, with Brexit having remained a recurring theme during campaigns.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) acknowledged "ongoing uncertainty" was cause for concerns for some members of the UK Armed Forces deployed overseas.

Fast-forward to December and Britain's fate in the European Union (EU) remains up in the air.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's vow to exit the EU, "do or die", by 31 October failed and now the British public will take to the polling station this week for the third time in four years.

But what does continental Europe make of Britain's political stalemate and its potential defence repercussions?

Forces News' continental journey begins in Vaalserberg - at 322 metres above sea level, it is the highest point in the Netherlands and sits on the border with Germany and Belgium.

Through the countryside, people from all three countries enjoy its views - so where better to gauge an opinion of the UK's election?

"I hope they don't leave Europe," said Martine, from the Netherlands.

"We have a large history also with trade, the Netherlands with England, so yeah I hope they stay in the EU."

German Mathias also believes Brexit is a negative: "This is the first country to leave, who’ll be next, you wonder? Would we need the EU anymore?

"Then we’d have a situation with countries no longer bound together and every man from himself. We’d all be weaker."

Sandy from Belgium said she hopes Brexit won't ruin the UK's relationship with Belgium and its people.

"I hope that this bond will still be there," she said.

"If not so we are not so good protected.

"We never, never, never forgot who came here to fight the Germans, why we live in freedom today and there were a lot, lot, lot English people who didn’t have to fight here but they came. I think we will never forget that.”

Maastricht, The Netherlands.

An hour's drive away is Cologne - a German city that is steeped in history and was almost flattened by Allied bombs during World War Two. 

Along the river banks of the Rhine in the city centre is Sebastian Schulte, German defence correspondent for Jane's, told Forces News: "There is no immediate pressure to leave the continent physically in terms of British Army presence.

"There is an effort made to invest into that presence and specifically more into NATO’s eastern commitments."

Deals like the £2.8 billion purchase for a fleet of German Boxer armoured vehicles are expected to continue but Mr Schulte believes the UK will increasingly look to its own defence manufacturers.

He said: "Where it fits, one will choose a national solution to support and bolster national industry and where it fits strategically and politically, one will seek out individual, high profile cases like Boxer with a view to keep the connection with the continent."

As an outsider, Britain will no longer be able to influence the EU's own defence initiative.

The Permanent Structured Co-operation (PESCO) is made up of 25 member states and includes 47 joint training projects from cyber to nuclear, chemical and biological warfare.

“I think that Britain would be able to join selected individual projects like this but through Brexit, what it does lose is the overall access to all of these projects on principle at any time,” Mr Schulte said.

Royal Marines train at a Dutch infantry school near Arnhem (Image: Royal Navy)
Royal Marines train at a Dutch infantry school near Arnhem (Picture: Royal Navy)

Crossing the border again and on the banks of the Maas sits the Dutch city of Maastricht, where the EU was formed.

Iris, who grew up close to the birthplace of the EU, said she felt Brexit has damaged the UK's reputation.

"You hear everything but then nothing really happens," she said.

She also said she has heard the people of Maastricht "joking" about Brexit.

Polish couple Ola and Mateusz, however, were more relaxed when it came to Brexit and European defence.

"I don't think anyone is concerned," said Ola, mentioning the arrival of extra American troops in Poland. 

A stone's throw from Maastricht is Aachen - a German city that borders the Netherlands in Belgium.

The city, once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, is now more famous for its Christmas markets where Forces News continued to ask questions. 

Stallholder Gudrun said she is fed up with hearing about Brexit but is clear about one thing.

"Military cooperation will continue," she said.

It's in the interest of both our countries to work together.

"I have no fears that those ties will be severed."

But the last word on the subject goes to Andreas, a visitor from Bavaria.

"I’m from a generation that grew up after the war," he says.

"We have known only peace.

"It’s been a long time and we hope it continues, with or without Britain, it really doesn’t matter to me.

"The most important thing is that peace continues," Andreas added.