Before Brexit, foreign journalists had it rough in the UK, according to broadcast journalist Jiří Hošek. Now the British government needs Europe’s press, he told EURACTIV.cz media partner Aktuálně.
Jiří Hošek is Czech Radio’s UK correspondent.
Hošek was interviewed by Jan Gazdík and Josef Pazderka.
Will Brexit help the EU make necessary changes?
I hope that both the member states and Brussels will reflect on what led British voters to vote for their country’s withdrawal. The fact is that the Union contributed to the British vote.
But I think that more and more European countries are too inward-looking. Selfishness in European policy is clearly growing.
In addition, there are parliamentary elections in Germany and presidential elections in France coming up, and Italy faces a fragile political and economic situation.
And Europe lacks a respected visionary who would pound the table, saying that the Union’s policy must be changed completely.
Because something must be done about voters’ frustration and Britons’ anger, which may potentially spill over to other EU countries.
How do the British perceive comments by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about their desertion of the EU, or threats that withdrawal from the Union would be painful for the UK?
Juncker’s comments were and are terribly counterproductive. The British were very offended and incensed by the fact that someone questioned their decisions. Even though we can objectively agree with Juncker that Brexit was a knife stabbed in the European partners’ back.
However, the British acted in accordance with the rules of the game or, more precisely, in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows any member state to withdraw from the Union.
What do the British hold against the EU most of all?
The United Kingdom does not have complete control over its borders. Regardless of the fact that it is an island country.
Net migration to the UK reached 330,000 a year in the past two years alone. This is a very large number even for this country.
The topic of immigration was therefore absolutely decisive in the campaign before the Brexit referendum.
Let’s come back to the Czechs who have lived and worked in the UK for a long time. There should be about 60,000 of them. What do they think of Brexit?
In my opinion, there are far more than 60,000 in the UK.
We must also take into consideration how they planned their lives. There are Czechs living here – including myself, by the way – who know that they will return to their homeland sooner or later. These people are not particularly worried about Brexit.
Then there are the majority of Czechs from mixed marriages. Or those who have planned their future in the UK as a member state, so they have worked here for a long time.
They are nervous about their status. The number of their applications for permanent residence in the UK, or even for British citizenship, has increased.
Are these concerns somehow different in regional terms?
Yes. The earlier very good atmosphere with regard to foreigners has changed slightly in small British towns or in the countryside.
Life for this group of Czechs is not as pleasant as before in the UK. But this will not be reported by any statistics.
After Brexit, there has been a lot of talk about British xenophobia against Poles and other nationalities. At least one Pole died after a racist attack.
In London, where I live, the British hospitality hasn’t changed at all.
On the contrary, they were ashamed and apologised for the result of the referendum, as well as for some verbal attacks on foreigners that occurred outside London.
There are 65 million people living in the UK. The number of attacks on foreigners is not completely negligible, but it is still very low.
There is definitely no hunt for foreigners in a sense that they would have to constantly turn to check who is behind them.
Has your work as a foreign correspondent in the UK been somehow affected by Brexit?
What do you mean exactly?
The status of foreign journalists in the UK wasn’t good at all in the past. Official authorities cold-shouldered us – they communicated little, often ignoring or rejecting our requests for an interview or information.
Now the British government suddenly realised that in fact it needs the European media. In my opinion, this is what they should have realised in 2015 – perhaps the result of the Brexit referendum would have been a little different. But that’s just for the record.
Now, literally out of thin air, press briefings specifically for foreign media have started to be held in the prime minister’s office at Downing Street.
Something like this was called for by the community of foreign correspondents in vain for the last ten years. British politicians’ approach to us, foreign reporters, has also improved.
So British politicians suddenly care about the reputation of their country in the eyes of Europe?
Definitely. The UK is leaving the EU, but not Europe. The British continue to be Europeans, just a little differently.
Therefore, no one here in the UK can imagine that super strict border controls could return. That a Czech who wants to fly to London for the weekend and go to a top Premier League match or buy some discounted goods suddenly has to queue for a visa in front of the British embassy in Prague.
Of course, the British, who are used to travelling, don’t want that either. They go to the mountains in Italy or France, on summer holiday to Spain and Greece. They certainly don’t want to lose this.
On the other hand, a slightly poisoned arrow from the British quiver has been shot at Europe.