What To Make Of EU President Donald Tusk's Remarks?
Donald Tusk's ‘special place in hell’ comments have provoked considerable manufactured outrage - that leave voters had been insulted - despite the fact that Brexit leaders have made far more vicious comments about the EU.
Tusk’s comments were quite clearly aimed at those who have led the campaign for Brexit with no plan for how to deliver it. Those Brexit leaders who have succeeded in inflicting incalculable damage on Britain - in some cases with knowing recklessness, in other cases with casual irresponsibility. And that’s before we've even left the EU.
“I have always been with you with all my heart, but the facts are unmistakable. At the moment the pro-Brexit stance of the UK prime minister and the leader of the opposition rules out this question. Today there is no political force and no effective leadership for remain.”
That Tusk chose to make such a remark, clearly knowing that, as Taoiseac, Leo Varadkar, pointed out to him, the British press would have a field day is highly revealing. The context to Tusk’s remarks and key to understanding the thinking of EU member states are the following:
The defeat of Yvette Cooper’s amendment to extend Article 50 underlined that there is no majority to be found in the Commons for stopping Brexit.
An increasing awareness that Jeremy Corbyn has no desire to re-open the referendum question - if he can help it. (John McDonnell may think otherwise).
For the most part, European politicians no longer see keeping the UK within the European Union as a possible – and in some cases even as a desirable – outcome of the Brexit talks.
One aspect of the negotiations that many in Britain have failed to understand is that a key EU objectives is to demonstrate that there is no better deal for a European nation than membership of the European Union. Tusk and the EU leaders would far rather achieve this objective by either Brexit being overturned or by a Brexit where the United Kingdom remains within the economic institutions of the EU. But if this objective cannot be achieved, then the EU’s aim becomes to demonstrate that Brexit is a mess – and a mess caused by British politicians, not by the European Union.
The dynamic of the relationship between the EU and the remain campaign has been shifting for a while. It changed decisively once the Withdrawal Agreement was completed. From that point forward, Brexit was a done deal as far as the EU was concerned. This does not mean that the EU doesn’t still hope that Brexit might be reversed. But the institutional logic has now shifted, and Tusk’s remarks reflect this new reality.
This explains why EU leaders have no interest in tip-toeing around British political sensibilities, nor in trying to mollify the Brexiters. Tusk’s intention was to send two clear messages:
Solidarity to the Taoiseac (on the podium while Tusk made his remarks) that member states will always be looked after;
Non-members will not be looked after.
Circling back to my opening comment - that Brexiteers have made far more vicious comments about the EU than Tusk’s remarks on 6th February – it’s worth reflecting for a moment on the impact of language in negotiations.
Pro-Brexit politicians and commentators have described European leaders as Nazis, Soviets and other slurs, and expected them to take it. But the instant an EU leader answers back, however politely, they’re portrayed as having somehow crossed the line.
These same pro-Brexit politicians and commentators have also routinely referred to Remainers as “quislings, collaborators or traitors” – language that pitches the EU as a hostile force with which we are at war rather than a group of Britain’s closest allies.
Somehow, Britain has ended up in an abusive relationship with the European Union – and Britain is the abusive partner, despite having none of its strength. This does not augur well for future relationships and negotiations.
Thankfully a new campaign, Lead Not Leave, launched by Gina Miller, Lord Saatchi and Baroness Kennedy offers a way forward: a solution that will allow the United Kingdom to move forward with honour and to lead - and not to follow - Europe. If only there is the political will to grasp the nettle.
Find out more about Gina Miller’s campaign by visiting the Lead Not Leave website.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
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