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Analysis

Tusk’s pleas for goodwill red rag to Brexit press

by Luke Lythgoe | 05.05.2017

Donald Tusk has attempted to diffuse the Brexit slanging match between London and Brussels, calling for “discretion, moderation, mutual respect and a maximum of goodwill.” Hard Brexiters have denounced the European Council president as “patronising” and “sexist” in Britain’s pro-Brexit press, proving their craving for a fight rather than an olive branch.

During a press conference with the Norwegian prime minister, Tusk said: “These [Brexit] negotiations are difficult enough as they are. If we start arguing before they even begin, they will become impossible. The stakes are too high to let our emotions get out of hand.”

Tusk never mentioned Theresa May by name, although her speech outside Downing Street in which she accused Brussels of meddling in the UK election was clearly at the heart of the comment. However, Tusk’s references to “discretion” and “mutual respect” can also be read as a criticism of the damaging leaks which came out of the European Commission following May’s dinner last week with the Commission’s president and chief Brexit negotiator.

This interpretation, that Tusk was dressing down both sides and not just ticking off May, was made by “senior Tory sources” to the Guardian. However, the pro-Brexit newspapers rejected Tusk’s attempts at conciliation.

The Telegraph, Express and Sun (headline: “How dare EU!”) liberally quoted Tory rent-a-Brexiters such as Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrew Bridgen. The main accusation was that Tusk had been indulging in “patronising finger-wagging” and was being “sexist, patronising and inaccurate”.

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Like their UK counterparts (and indeed UK newspapers), European officials are not above sexist language – for example, it felt uncomfortably antiquated when Guy Verhofstadt said of Theresa May in March: “Towards a lady I don’t even think about or use the word blackmail” (listen 10:30). But Tusk’s reference to emotions is hardly comparable. The reaction to his comments says much more about Brexiters clamouring for a fight than any misogyny on Tusk’s part.

UK ministers also don’t seem to want to end the war of words. Appearing on BBC Question Time a few hours after Tusk’s press conference, Brexit minister David Davis accused the EU of “trying to bully the British people”, saying his government “will not allow them to be bullied”.

Whatever the Commission’s thinking behind the Downing Street dinner leaks, May is clearly using the fallout as general election fodder, displaying her strength against a foreign foe. She can rely on the Brexit press to amplify this sentiment. But these aren’t our foes, they’re our closest neighbours and partners. We should be listening to voices such as Tusk, and his sober warning that “the daily lives and interests of millions of people on both sides of the Channel” are at stake.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Tusk’s pleas for goodwill red rag to Brexit press”

  • Anyone else have the feeling Mrs May and Co don’t want a deal? It was in a Dutch newspaper (NRC) today: “Mislukking is voor Mrs May ook een optie” (failure is also an option for Mrs May).

  • I have the distinct impression that May and Co can see the tran smash coming, and are now in panic mode. They have no idea how to stop the train, no idea how to change direction, and May’s performance outside No. 10 was bordering on hysteria. As for Rees-Mogg, Duncan Smith and the rest, they are all millionaires, all cushioned against any disastrous outcome and don’t care about anything or anyone as long as they get what they want which is total and complete withdrawal from the EU and the re-establishment of the Empire with all the Commonwealth nations tugging their forelocks and, as our Foreign Secretary so quaintly put it, supplying piccaninis to smile and cheer when required.