They saw three years of bluster on how Britain would leave the EU on its own terms dissolve Friday with the last of three votes in Parliament that failed to approve Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal, leaving an uncertain course.
"There was no game plan. Well, no strategy," Philippe Lamberts, a key member of the European Parliament's Brexit steering group, said of the British approach in an interview with The Associated Press.
Few in Britain would disagree. For decades, the bloc was the target of ridicule in Britain for what was perceived as European hubris and an inefficient bureaucracy. But on Friday, there was very little gloating on the continent as May failed to get the deal through the U.K. Parliament, sending London deeper into the Brexit morass.
"We have resisted the temptation to position the (EU) Commission in terms of sentiments," said EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas. "We don't do that." The EU called another emergency summit for April 10, two days ahead of a new withdrawal date. A chaotic "no-deal" departure scenario is expected to be costly to U.K. businesses and inconvenient at its border. May said there would be "grave" implications.
The EU doesn't want to inflame passions even more, because it also stands to suffer, with hundreds of billions of euros and tens of thousands of jobs at stake for a U.K. exit without transitional measures in place.
"In Brexit, everybody loses," said Ewa Osniecka-Tamecka, a vice rector of the College of Europe, speaking at a branch in Natolin, Poland. "Brexit diminishes both the EU and the U.K." There was frustration among EU officials who felt that they and their star negotiator Michel Barnier did their part and Britain didn't.
Even Nigel Farage, a British driving force behind Brexit and staunch EU opponent, has nothing but admiration for Barnier who kept 27 nations aligned as one while Britain, as one, crumbled into chaos. "Oh, in terms of doing his job. Goodness gracious me. Look, you know, I wish he was on my team and not their team," Farage, a member of the European Parliament, told the AP.
Almost three years after the June 23, 2016, Brexit referendum, the British government and Parliament seem to be still at a loss over what they really wants from the EU. "Britain is at a dead end," said Nathalie Loiseau, who was France's Europe Minister until she resigned this week to run in the May 23-26 EU elections. "Europeans have other priorities than having to wait until the U.K. takes a decision."
What also is in tatters is a European admiration of Britain as a symbol of a well-run parliamentary democracy, with its sometimes brilliant discourse and vigorous debate. Lamberts said he was stunned at how May's Conservative Party as well as those in the Labour Party seemed to act in their own interests, rather than the needs of the country.
"It's the inability to build compromise," Lamberts said. "That's it. Party above country, in the most brutal sense of the word." Manfred Weber, a European lawmaker from Germany and center-right candidate to head the European Commission, said the repeated rejection of the deal highlighted "a failure of the political class in Great Britain — there's no other way to describe it."
Some saw Friday's events as another blow to Britain's international standing. "The British have given the world a great deal, from modern parliamentarism to the world title in the discipline of 'muddling through,'" historian Michael Stuermer wrote in a front-page commentary in German daily Die Welt.
Now, however, "the damage to the country's reputation is unmistakable."
Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.