Anti-EU campaign group, Leave.EU, recently incensed many with a xenophobic tweet directed at the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Posted on Tuesday 8th October, the meme alluded to Britain’s World War victories and was evocative of wartime propaganda. It read, “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut”, alongside a photo of Merkel with her arm extended, suggestive of a Sieg Heil salute. The tweet was in response to alleged reports that in a phone call with Boris Johnson, Merkel stated that Northern Ireland must remain in a customs union and in full alignment with EU regulations. Millionaire co-founder of the Brexit group and political donor, Arron Banks, has since apologised saying it “went too far”. Leave.EU tweeted, “We’re sorry” alongside a sad faced emoji, having since deleted all tweets.
When the issue was addressed in The House of Commons, Chris Leslie, MP for the Independent Group for Change, condemned the inflammatory tweet as “deliberate dog-whistle briefing” and warned that it has sparked a series of similar “frankly racist attacks against Germans”. The comments also triggered criticism from cabinet master Michael Gove, who dissociated himself from any racist or demeaning language against Germany whilst adding, “they are our friends, they are our allies, they are a great country”. He called for the Prime Minister to condemn such behaviour, warning of the detrimental effects this course could have on the government.
In the run up to the referendum, an increasingly sceptical projection of Europe dominated mainstream national papers. Inciteful and divisionary language stoked the fire of the public’s fears and prejudices towards Europe, and more specifically immigration. A consistent discourse of regaining control and taking back our country was evoked and pervaded the public opinion, no doubt contributing to the subsequent outcome of the referendum and democratic crisis we now face. The use of reckless and misinformed discourse by the press, and similarly by Leave.EU, encourages harmful representations of Europe and ingrains a fear of multi-cultural Britain. We must establish the extent of misinformation in media coverage and rectify it to prevent further distorting of the political landscape through the language of the newspapers.
The inflammatory tweet from Leave.EU was in response to reports of a heated phone conversation between Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Merkel, during which Merkel allegedly revealed that the EU has adopted a new position, making a leave deal overwhelmingly unlikely. Such confidential conversations are not normally reported, however in a briefing about the discussion, a No. 10 source said that the German Chancellor demanded that the U.K. cannot leave the EU unless Northern Ireland remain in a customs union force, and subsequently in full alignment with the European Union forever. Government officials have refused to confirm if this was an accurate account of the conversation between the leaders.
It is vital that the government continue to be candid and outrightly condemn the use of xenophobic and derogatory language pertaining to Europe in this tumultuous political climate, as we face the challenge of putting forward a credible Brexit deal in the very near future. As a society, we must endeavour to inform ourselves of the extent of misinformation in the media, and thereby aim to create a knowledgeable discourse infused with commitment to principles of diversity and respect.