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Analysis

EU’s careless words play into hard Brexiters’ hands

by Luke Lythgoe | 08.09.2017

Jean-Claude Juncker’s questioning of the “stability and accountability” of David Davis is just the latest example of unfortunate language from EU officials. The European Commission president’s apparently damning appraisal of the Brexit secretary, revealed on Thursday in Commission minutes from July, have stoked the fires of Brexiters’ campaign to vilify Britain’s negotiating partners.

The Daily Mail splashed the headline “Don’t treat us with contempt!” across its Friday print edition. Further outraged coverage appeared in The Sun and Express, the copy spattered with words like “fury”, “incendiary” and “bar-room insults”.

Daily Mail, Friday 8 September 2017

Daily Mail, Friday 8 September 2017

Painting EU officials as the bad guys in the negotiations helps hard Brexiters in two ways: bad blood between both sides and anti-EU sentiment among the public makes a breakdown in talks (and thus Brexiters’ hard-Brexit vision) more likely to happen; then when this proves a catastrophe, blame can be heaped on stubborn “eurocrats” like Juncker.

Needless to say, pro-Brexit pundits have piled in gleefully. Ukip’s Brexit spokesperson said Juncker’s “bully-boy tactics” were “immature, counter-productive and irresponsible”. Leave-campaigning MP Maria Caulfield said Juncker seemed “more interested in a public slagging match”. Jacob Rees-Mogg said the term “unstable” was better used to describe the Commission president, who was “thought to enjoy the fruit of the vine”. The Mail also raised Juncker’s alleged “problem with alcohol”.

Of course, Juncker’s reference to stability could have been a comment on Theresa May’s poor election performance and fractious Cabinet rather than a “character attack” on Davis – even the Express accepts as much further down its article. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has since attempted to defuse the situation, using a press conference to hail the “professionalism and the competence” of Davis and his team, adding: “I don’t want people to get emotional.”

But this isn’t the first time seemingly innocuous comments from EU officials have turned into a pro-Brexit media frenzy. Barnier found himself branded “patronising and arrogant” this week after being quoted as wanting to “teach” the British people what leaving the single market meant. He later tweeted that his comment had been taken out of context.

Martin Selmayr, Juncker’s chief of staff, also fell into the Brexiter propaganda trap this week when he was quoted calling Brexit a “stupid decision” that could be reversed. Nigel Farage used the Telegraph’s report to call Selmayr and his colleagues “pig headed” and “uncooperative”.

EU officials must screen their words extremely carefully over the next few months, no matter how uncontroversial they assume them to be. Any misstep will be leapt upon by Brexiters as it provides them with a media platform and moral high ground they do not deserve.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

10 Responses to “EU’s careless words play into hard Brexiters’ hands”

  • @Luke Lithgoe

    don’t you find your attitude singularly self-centered ?

    I mean, at the end of your piece, you finally concede that European officials words “no matter how uncontroversial they assume them to be” should be better screened.
    so you do accept that they have been purposefuly mischaracterized by the brexiteers

    if that’s so, why do you blame the “innocent” and instead try to protect the “bullies” ?
    who is the gravest threat to British democracy ? is the technocratic diplo-speak of European officials or the nationalist demagoguery of brexiteers ?
    how many insults, gross distortion of facts and misinformation have been peddled by the brexit press and their hangers-on, not just in then past several weeks, but for months and years ?!?

    and here is the cowardly smugness all too often on display by english commenters of excusing their own “bastards” rather than taking them on for their misdeeds.
    you have a cancer within in Britain, but you’ll instead prefer to keep indulging it and lay the blame at those further afield.

    Utterly shameful

  • Very sorry, but naked contempt of anything “European” was the hallmark of a certain British way of life for years; Boris Johnson in his Brussels correspondent days made his name with it. As did in fact many others following his example. Apart from that, has it passed you by that the mood on the Continent is rapidly changing into one of open contempt of the UK? And the idea that this country might stop the brexit proceedings and return to the EU fold is getting less acceptable to many by the day? Another issue is that I understand that the EU nations are already busy sorting out the finances, to take a cliff edge brexit without seeing the EU kitty wrecked by it. In a Dutch newspaper (Trouw) I read a telling comment yesterday that Brussels pretty soon might be telling the UK that Brexit means Brexit. Just so you know.

  • I quite agree with the comments above. The endless abuse that has come from the Brexiteers has made me quite ashamed of us nationally. Having just been on holiday in Europe I found myself wanting to apologize for the undeserved contempt which we seem to dole out towards Europe, which is really a pathetic attempt to pass the blame for our own national shortcomings onto someone else. Low wages, austerity, lack of affordable housing, training of the low skilled are all under our own control. When will Britain wake up?

  • I support using harsh words about UK politicians since it seems to provoke Brexiter’s counterattacks making a hard and fast Brexit more likely.
    I think the British mood right now is best savoured in private reflection outside the EU. UK first!
    I think many people agree with me that we want the UK out of the EU. Sad.

  • This is the problem with British tory politicians and brexiteers, they are so arrogant.
    EU officials are just stating the obvious, they must be fast running out of patience with Davis and May.
    Our brexit politicians are complete and unadulterated charlatans, their only interest is in removing over 40 years of social and environmental reform. So that unscrupulous employers, and investors, can make more millions, by removing workers rights, and environmental restrictions that protect us.
    Davis and May should be impeached for gross dereliction of duty and working against the will of the majority of British people.
    I used to think they were useless, but I have come to the conclusion that they have a dastardly plan to take us back to the 70’s.
    They have no moral compass, all they are interested in is making money out of misery!

  • The article is the typical hogwash we get from so-called pro-EU Brits; for decades they’ve been telling the rest of Europe we shouldn’t annoy their extremists, because god-forbid they should actually take them on themselves.

    The way I see it, the EU can only be better off without the UK, regardless of economical damage. At least we will no longer be forced to shape the Union according to the desires of people who’d rather see it come down in fire and ashes.

  • It was always entirely predictable that Hard Brexit Tories, UKIP , Mail/Express etc. would try and blame EU politicians for any difficulties with the negotiations. They have to blame them, as otherwise they would make themselves look rather stupid.
    After all, they predicted that the EU needs us rather than vica versa (German car manufactueres needs etc) when their own predictions of how much the EU would be falling overthemselves to reach an agreement.
    However, Juncker needs to be a bit more careful with his language, as he should be aware of how our tabloid press are.

  • Since when have rags like the Mail needed genuine reasons to attack the EU? The EU has bent over backwards over the decades to accommodate the UK’s reluctant membership without getting any credit from these people.

    If telling the truth gives them another target to attack, so be it: the more mature occupants of Britain can listen and consider, and the far-right brats can whinge away in their fantasy world.

  • The Mail and similar publications will ensure that the existing division between the EU and the UK continues forever. Their racist xenophobic rants continue non stop.

    We are neighbours and hope to be trading partners with the EU whatever the outcome of the exit talks. Accusing the EU of every fault that exists in the repertoire of institutional and human shortcomings is not the way to ensure a comfortable relationship with a 450,000,000 population of consumers.

    The world is a dangerous place at the moment and the last thing we need to do is to create enemies of our friends. Think of the good we could do at home and abroad if we put the energy we are using for brexit to a better more humane use.