It was a tweet emblematic of the shambolic Brexit process.
Campaign group Leave.EU has gotten in a lot of hot water over a post calling out Angela Merkel, which some British lawmakers called xenophobic.
The group, co-founded by Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice and millionaire Arron Banks, tweeted on Tuesday: “Angela Merkel’s demand that Britain leaves Northern Ireland to rot inside the Customs Union is reprehensible and shows the true colours of our supposed ‘European allies’.”
The now-deleted ad was accompanied by a poster showing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a pose bearing, perhaps coincidentally, a resemblance to the Nazi salute. “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a kraut,” the all-caps caption read.
'Kraut', a derivative of the word sauerkraut, is a derogatory term for a German, used particularly to refer to German soldiers during the two world wars.
The tweet came at a time when Brexit talks between Britain and the EU are deadlocked over the Irish backstop issue. Boris Johnson is trying to negotiate a new Brexit deal with just three weeks to go before Brexit, and has set out new proposals to avoid a hard border in Ireland – the main difference from Theresa May’s plan is that according to Johnson, Northern Ireland would leave the EU’s customs union along with the rest of the UK and stay in parts of its single market.
The EU has rejected his plan, and Angela Merkel reportedly told Johnson over the phone on Tuesday that a Brexit deal is “overwhelmingly unlikely” unless Northern Ireland remains in the customs union. No 10 responded in a statement that it means that the deal is “essentially impossible, not just now but ever”.
Speaking in the House of Commons later that day, Labour MP Chris Leslie claimed that the statement about the phone call with Merkel had sparked “racist attacks” against Germans on social media from Brexit campaigners, including Leave.EU.
He then urged Michael Gove, the minister in charge of no-deal Brexit planning, to “pause and reflect on the deliberate dog whistle briefing” put out this morning by No 10 against Angela Merkel”.
Michael Gove replied that he wanted to “entirely disassociate myself from any sort of racist or demeaning language towards Germany”. He added that the Chancellor and the German government are “good friends” of Britain.
Liberal Democrat spokesperson Tom Brake told The Independent that the Leave.EU post was “nothing short of insulting and offensive” and contained language that is “stoking divisions within our society and should not be considered acceptable”.
Labour MP David Lammy, a former cabinet minister, said: “Dear Germany and the EU, please accept our apologies and do not be fooled into thinking Leave EU’s xenophobic bile is representative of the UK."
Dear Germany and the EU, please accept our apologies and do not be fooled into thinking Leave EU's xenophobic bile is representative of the UK.— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) October 8, 2019
A clear majority of Brits now oppose Brexit in all its forms. A vast, young and vibrant pro-EU movement in Britain stands with you. pic.twitter.com/p155Y0Stfs
Apart from online abuse, tensions have also been growing between the EU and Britain in the top echelons of leadership. The growing assumption among politicians in Brussels is that Boris Johnson is blaming them for the imminent failure of the Brexit negotiations to stir up public anger in Britain against the European Union, seeking the necessary set-up for his campaign in the next national election.
European Council President Donald Tusk expressed this assumption in a Twitter rant aimed directly at Boris Johnson.
“What’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game,” he said. “At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis? (‘where are you going?’ in Latin)”
.@BorisJohnson, what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 8, 2019
Boris Johnson’s government is highly unlikely to present new proposals and is understood to be preparing for the talks to collapse this week. This means that Boris Johnson would head to the crunch EU summit on 17 October without a deal in place. According to a bill passed by lawmakers last month, Johnson must request a Brexit delay if no deal is agreed upon by 19 October, but the prime minister has made it clear he would look for ways to circumvent Parliament’s instructions.
Boris Johnson currently has no majority in Parliament, and the only way he could restore it (and hence deliver Brexit) is to hold a general election. His Conservative Party is polling some 15 percent ahead of Labour, so Johnson has very realistic chances of forming a majority government and securing a five-year term.
The next general election isn’t due until 2022, and Johnson has tried to trigger one twice in September, but the opposition refused to support the motions, fearing that his victory would enable him to take Britain of the EU without a deal. The election is widely expected to occur earlier however, probably by the end of this year.