‘Brexit’ vote divides Czechs over EU future


Wednesday is the last day of campaigning in the British referendum over whether to remain or quit the European Union, the so-called ‘Brexit’ option. The vote is being closely followed in the Czech Republic with emotions high among local backers of both the remain and leave camps. They perhaps agree on one thing: that the vote will be decisive for the future of Czechs as well.

Photo: Jan BartoněkPhoto: Jan Bartoněk A large red double decker bus, one of the symbols of Britishness, was parked for most of Wednesday outside Czech Radio’s Prague headquarters offering tea to passers-by. And for two hours in the radio building a lively public debate on the British referendum was staged by the current affairs channel, Plus.

The British vote is being given a lot of coverage in the Czech Republic. Public broadcaster Czech Television’s rolling news channel will devote a special programme from five in the morning Friday to the emerging results.

Wednesday’s radio debate made at least one thing clear. The remain camp is guaranteed the support of at least one celebrity Czech living in Britain who has the right to vote, architect Eva Jiřična. She gave this message during the debate:

“I do not see any reason why Britain should leave the EU. I do not see any of the reasons that have been advanced for leaving as valid or which would win my support. I believe that when something doesn’t work, then people should try and fix it. Otherwise, it’s like someone deserting from the army and blaming it all on the European Union.”

Petr Mach, photo: Filip JandourekPetr Mach, photo: Filip Jandourek Many of the estimated 40,000 Czechs working, living, or studying in Britain will not have the right to vote although they are clearly in the front line if a leave vote triumphs in a very close contest.

But the impact will be clearly felt in the Czech Republic. Member of the European Parliament for the eurosceptic Party of Free Citizens, Petr Mach, is hoping for a leave vote which could provide inspiration for Czechs as well:

“I think this [vote] is a celebration of democracy and it will undoubtedly influence the Czech Republic. If the vote is against leaving the European Union, then the EU will continue as before with its condescending rulings and with us being outvoted on immigrant quotas and more regulations. On the other hand, it could get a shock and will be forced to rethink how it functions. I hope the British will show they are independent. It will not be the end of the world and they will be able to trade without succumbing to the strictest rules.”

Jiří Pospíšil, photo: Filip JandourekJiří Pospíšil, photo: Filip Jandourek Sharing the radio panel, fellow MEP for the TOP 09 party and former minister of justice, Jiří Pospíšil warned that Czechs could lose a partner and supporter on many European questions.

“In the case that Britain leaves, we in the Czech Republic will lose a key ally in the European Union. Britain with its rational Anglo-Saxon stance, very often at the European Council, when prime ministers and ministers are negotiating, has the same position as the Czech Republic.”