The twisting of Donald Tusk’s words – from a criticism of hardline Brexiteer politicians to a condemnation of 17.4 million people – was predictable but disgraceful.
“I’ve been wondering what that the special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.” Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, did not hold back as he warned Britain that the EU would not “gamble with peace” over the controversial Irish border ‘backstop’ in the Brexit deal.
This criticism was aimed at politicians of the hard Brexit persuasion who have been in uproar over the backstop, without actually coming up with a serious alternative suggestion.
Within minutes, his comment was being portrayed as an attack on everyone in the UK who voted to leave the EU.
Conservative Brexiteer Peter Bone told the Commons: “I don’t recall, sir, any President insulting members of this House, members of the Government and the British people in such a way.”
And Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP whose views are now hugely important as his party helps prop up the minority Conservative Government at Westminster, said that Tusk was a “devilish, trident-wielding euro maniac” who “once again shows his contempt for the 17.4 million people who voted to escape the corruption of the EU and seek the paradise of a free and prosperous Kingdom”.
The phrase “I was quoted out of context” is often used by people in the public eye as a way to defend themselves when, in reality, they do not have a leg to stand on. The immediate question should always be: “What is the context that changes the meaning of what you said?”
In Tusk’s case, hardline Brexiteers quoted him accurately about a “special place in hell” but then ignored the context that this applied only to those who “promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan”.
Perhaps they spoke too quickly without reading beyond a headline, but if they knew what he actually said then it is straightforwardly dishonest. It is also intellectual cowardice, because rather than argue against Tusk’s actual position, they have instead just twisted his words.
And it is bad for Britan, because if this becomes the accepted standard of debate, if we embrace the hideous idea of a ‘post-truth’ society, then peaceful, liberal democracy will be finished.
This is yet another example of the need for greater respect for the views of others. No one is a “devil” or a “maniac”. It is not naive to say that we are all, for the most part, trying to do the right thing.