The European Union has a certain number of flaws, many of which make citizens of member states unhappy. Normally in a democratic system, the majority tries to listen to the minority and do compromises.

After the British voted their intent to leave the Union, it is a major signal that there are at least some things which are seriously wrong with the Union the way it is right now, and there is need for serious reform. Initially only the German government wanted to play nice with the UK and go that route, while the other member states only wanted to "punish the UK for her treason". Yet being in a minority, Germany had to join the vision of the other states.

My question is, why is this? By acting in such a stubborn way, the Union is ignoring its own problems, weakening itself and isolating itself to a point I find ridicule. By listening to their detractors and finding compromises, they'll surely improve how the Union works and come up with a stronger, more solid Union.

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    What is the phrase "punish the UK for her treason" from? In what sense do you think the EU is trying to "punish" the UK? It's not that I 100% disagree with that but I have no idea how to answer without knowing what you're actually talking about.
    – djechlin
    Jul 1, 2016 at 22:21
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    "After Great-Britishs voted their intent to leave the Union, it is a major signal that there is at least some things which are seriously wrong with the Union the way it is right now," Not necessarily. All that happened was the Leave campaign won a PR conflict with the Remain campaign, by making statements and pledges that were frankly all lies. This speaks more of England's ignorant electorate and dysfunctional politics than anything specific to the EU.
    – user8398
    Jul 1, 2016 at 23:11
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    @inappropriateCode while the OP does indeed make some unwarranted claims in his question without any proof, answering to that by just calling names on the UK people does not help solving those issues; it just muddles the water.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 1, 2016 at 23:44
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    Could you please post a source which says that any EU states want to "punish the UK for her treason"? This seams like a quite baseless accusation to me.
    – Philipp
    Jul 2, 2016 at 0:05
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    @Relaxed The 600 character limit on comments exists for a purpose.
    – Philipp
    Jul 2, 2016 at 11:20

5 Answers 5


First, I would like to put into doubt concepts like "punish the UK" or "not listening to detractors", which are presented as facts by the OP.

So far, the position of the EU is that it wants a fast exit of the UK and that the position of the UK after the leave will have to be negotiated and will not be dictated by the UK wishes. The former helps shorten the uncertainty and make a faster the return to normality (and at the same time, preventing the UK from trying to bargain -again- for keeping membership of the EU in exchange of forcing the UK model on the EU). The latter is international politics as usual; treaties are negotiated to the convenience of both parties and not only of one of them (unless one of them has a really big stick).

So much to "punish the UK" motto, I think the EU is better explained as self-interest, in order to help to prevent further breakups.

And for "listening to critics", this is not what has happened here, either1. It was an issue of a country trying to redefine a treaty that such a country entered freely. And while the UK is free to decide that such a treaty is no longer profitable to it and to wish to renegotiate it, also the rest of the EU is free to reject such changes and say "take it or leave". Cameron 2 did think that he could score a political goal by forcing the EU to give yet more of an special treatment to the UK with his threats of leaving the EU3. He was wrong, but of course at the end he had others to blame for his mistakes.

The European Union are 28 countries, each country represented by a democratic government that each few years must present a positive result to its people or face dismissal. This always has always put a lot of pressure in its governance (which laws are approved, how funds are divided, etc). If every country gets to redefine, under threat of leaving it, what the EU treaties are and which ones affect them and which ones do not affect, the EU would stop being anything meaningful in a few years.

Since the EU has offered all what they are willing to offer, and the UK public has rejected such a deal, a breakup as fast as possible is the best possible outcome. As you said, the EU is a democracy and that would make it absurd for a single country to dictate terms of what the EU should be just because that country acts in such a stubborn way. Note that freedom of movements is one of the core tenets of the EU from its principle, it is not a recently added change.

Could the EU be better? As everything in this life, yes it could. But the need to coordinate the interests of 28 countries4 makes changes neither easy nor fast (at least, not fast enough to get Cameron elected, and that was his main stake). The "do it my way or I leave" is a very clumsy negotiating tactic that is not very appropriate for such complex issues.

1 Did any supporter of Brexit claim for the need of a change in the way the European Commission or the European Parliament work? I did not hear many constructive critics during this campaign, just requests to alter UK relationships with the EU.

2 Note that I am singling Cameron and neither the whole of the UK, nor the whole of the voter nor even the whole of Brexit supporters.

3 In fact the EU did send a proposal to the UK to make it more amenable (the February points, here is the official document), and that gave more flexibility to the UK in themes sensible to them, but that was not enough to convince the UK public.

4 Obviously, Nazi Germany would not have needed to negotiate any changes it wished, and would have had it way easier. That does not stop stupid comparisons, though.

  • I think that "Is the EU justified in its actions?" and "Is this the most effective approach?" are two different questions, and this answer addresses the former.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 1, 2016 at 23:54
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    @AndrewGrimm "Is the EU justified in its actions?" would be primarily opinion based and, as such, off-topic (unless we are talking about the EU breaking internation laws, for example threatening a military intervention against UK, which is not the case).
    – SJuan76
    Jul 2, 2016 at 0:06

I don't think it's about punishment. It's more about respecting the voting of the British people and completing the exit as fast as possible and as clean as possible. The British people want to leave the EU and now the British government have to implement the people's wishes. It's neither good for the EU nor for the UK to lengthen the exit. It's just normal that the UK cannot or will not get better conditions than the member states or better conditions as it had before. But that's no punishment; that's just the nature of being or being not a part of an alliance. If one leaves an alliance one will not longer benefit from it. One cannot expect to get better conditions after he has left because if that would be the case nobody would want to be part of an alliance. Each alliance must give its members preference otherwise nobody would want to become a part of it.

  • "It's neither good for the EU nor for the UK to lengthen the exit" - A matter of opinion, and in the latter case, not a widely held one. The view of most MPs (from Remain and Leave camps, with some exceptions) is that we should take our time and formulate a considered plan, rather than rush into it and be faced with the 2 year deadline.
    – JBentley
    Jul 4, 2016 at 8:34
  • I did not mean that the UK should leave in a hurry. I just meant that the UK government should start with the negotiations and start formulating a plan (maybe together with the EU). I know that PM Cameron don't want to quit but his people have made a decision and now he should initiate the exit. Deferring the negotiations helps nobody.
    – BobbyPi
    Jul 4, 2016 at 12:35
  • The situation is more complex than that. Cameron has resigned, there are Conservative leadership campaigns in progress, and the mandate for handling the negotiations has been passed to the to-be elected leader. There's no realistic way that process can be undone or overridden now. Potential candidates can (and will) formulate plans, but that's as far as it can go. If Cameron initiated the exit as you said, then we would lose 2-3 months of the 24 month negotiating time limit due to the leadership election. That would benefit nobody.
    – JBentley
    Jul 4, 2016 at 13:00
  • And even after the new leader is elected, why impose a 24 month deadline on ourselves when we don't need to? Most of the potential candidates (both leavers and remainers) realise, quite sensibly, that we stand more to gain by delaying article 50 invocation so that we can get a head start on the (very complex) work that needs to be done to handle the exit.
    – JBentley
    Jul 4, 2016 at 13:02

There's not much to add to the excellent @SJuan76's answer, but let me give it a try, in attempt to answering in "layman's terms". I must say that my answer is deliberately simplified, so one certainly can find counter-arguments to many statements within.

The political integration of the European Union was based on three essentially different models:


Faithful to its federative system and to Erhard's principles of minimal intervention of the state to the economy, Germany strives to build EU as a liberal and a loose alliance of states (likewise the Swiss Confederation).
In many cases, Germany was willing to negotiate and find mutually acceptable solutions, even sacrificing its national interests:

  • Germany, having 82 million population, has the same political "weight" in the EU as France or Italy (60-65 million) — regardless the common population-based voting system;
  • Germany is paying the major share of the EU budget, much bigger than its formal EU "weight".


On the contrary, France is a country with a much stronger centralization.
Historically, the French state plays much more important role in all affairs, including the economy.
The majority of French citizens see the EU's future as a giant super-state with a single government, actively dictating the rules of the economic game.


Britain understood the EU in the third way: Common Market, and the rest is a forced necessity.

So initially, the two (constantly competing) concepts always found a compromise.
After the Britain has joined the EU (well, the EEC), linking now three essentially different visions of the EU became extraordinarily difficult.

This was one of the reasons why De Gaulle has vetoed Britain's entry into the EEC in June 1967.

During the times of the EU history, there were numerous cases when the EU has provided Britain with benefits, discounts, and exceptions, in order to ensure unanimous vote in the fundamental decisions of the EU.

Since the Brexit, the U.K. will be able to roll back to the stage of the Common Market and "start making our own relationships with the rest of the world" — a quote from the infamous interview of Nigel Farage (YouTube).

At the same time, the EU will turn to a more dynamic, "dual" German-French vision of the Union, with no longer need to offer trade-offs in terms of the internal EU policies.

The above is the core reason why many EU officials urge the U.K. not to delay the Brexit.

  • I actually think that the core reason is to regain politically and economically stable and transparent environments as fast as possible in order not to let investors stop or delay their investments even longer, resulting in ever more trouble of deflation and recession. But these are nevertheless interesting thoughts about the political and ideological dynamics within the EU. Jul 4, 2016 at 3:37
  • One key issue in all this is that taking the referendum into account requires a lot more than rolling back to the "stage of the common market" (that's basically what the UK has now - as it opted out of most other things - and the common market very much includes freedom of movement for workers).
    – Relaxed
    Jul 4, 2016 at 8:22

Think about the choice of wording for a moment: what does punish mean? How could "The EU" punish "The UK" for leaving?

  • Could the EU offer only a bad deal for trading goods and services? Well, the UK is free to reject any deal it doesn't like, so that's not punishment in any way. They wanted back control, they can wield it. If it is not to their advantage, that's not punishment.

  • Could the EU refuse to give the UK financial industry the "Passport" for marketing their products in 27 nations? Of course; it's the EU's right and one of the perks of membership the UK has just voted to leave. Is it punishment that you can't have your cake and eat it?

  • Are tariffs a punishment? No, they're basic rules of trade between nations in the absence of other regulation and AFAIK nothing to be bitter about. The WTO rules are agreed upon by many nations.

In conclusion, there is no punishment ahead. That the EU will negotiate hard is any party's right, especially if it needs to pay attention to separatist parts of populations in some of their member states.

The EU (its predecessors to be precise) was founded on the idea of generating stability on a continent that has been torn apart by two World Wars. Personally I value this stability, yes this peace, and am willing to give up a considerable part of sovereignty and tax euros to keep it that way. 350 million pounds (or euros) a week is a bargain for stability and peace.

  • i guess the OP's point is that, since the UK's poop don't stink, they should get whatever they want. We should bow down, lower our pants, and be happy to be getting it up the ol' wazzoo from BJ the foreigner...... to foreign ministering Jun 7, 2017 at 9:28

It seems to me all the answers are wrong and outdated. Yes, several heads of state and important politicians within the EU have remarked that the UK should be punished. Why? Because if the UK actually Brexit and enjoy a better life afterwards, then other countries will want to go out too!

During the referendum, they tried to make the UK electors believe that exiting from the union would bring an economic disaster for their country, so if instead the British pounds goes higher than ever in a few years against the euro, and that the UK economic growth explodes, what then? Empty threats.

Now, the other answers try to explain this is imaginary, so here are some actual quotes :

Also, They want to halt UK-friendly countries such as Ireland, Hungary and Germany “going soft” on us, a top European official told The Sun..

We could go on and on, but the idea is to make the life of the UK miserable enough (yet not too much of course as it is an important economic partner still) so that any future referendums in any other state will not end up with an exit.

Addendum: it makes perfect sense for EU politicians to want to chastise the UK as its departure could weaken the EU if handled badly. It also makes sense for the French and German presidents to take the same stance as they see themselves as the EU's roots and protectors. But of course there are more reasons to their hard stance against Brexit: if the EU can create financial barriers against the UK (and the Brexit would be a good excuse for it), then London's position as a financial hub will suffer and the money and well-paid jobs will go to other hubs within the EU (Paris, Frankfurt, Milano, ...). And this is probably why M. Hollande is so vocal against the Brexit: so Paris gets the lion's share out of it. See this article, among many others.

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    Huh? On what planet did the pound climb after the vote? cdn.exchangerates.org.uk/graphs/… As for economic growth, the annual GPD growth rate in 2016Q4 in the UK was 2.00% against 1.90% for the entire EU. Not bad but hardly exploding. Plenty of countries in the EU did better. And plenty did worse. Source tradingeconomics.com/european-union/gdp-annual-growth-rate Mar 22, 2017 at 18:41
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    @ptityeti please re-read. I know the pound went down after the vote, and it is normal as the markets were betting on no brexit so there was an uncertainty period (and the pro union were really happy that the pound went down as it was supposed to prove that a Brexit would be bad for the economy). In my answer I am talking about hypothetical futures, as this is what the question was about, and IF the pound goes back up and through the roof then the EU will have lost the fight. There is a power struggle going on and the consequences will be felt in 5 to 10 years, not today.
    – Shautieh
    Mar 23, 2017 at 2:46
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    There is something to this but note that, no matter the rhetoric, we are mostly talking about not granting the UK any special treatment, not actively punishing it out of spite. Ditto for “financial barriers”, it's not about creating anything, it's about not going out of your way to give the UK a preferential treatment because the EU can't afford that. That's also what your quotes suggest, if you read them honestly.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 23, 2017 at 7:16
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    @Relaxed and that's the definition of a threat against other countries which would like to exit, which answers the question "why is the EU wishing to punish the UK". The EU could be seeking dialogue, as the UK pleaded several times, and through dialogue both the EU and the UK could be better off, but the EU won't for the listed reasons. BTW, cutting its ties to the UK will damage EU economy too.
    – Shautieh
    Mar 23, 2017 at 8:12
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    @Shautieh Read your quotes again, the only reason is that the EU would not be better off if it acted in any other way. That's exactly why the punishment rhetoric makes little sense.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 23, 2017 at 8:25

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