BRUSSELS — Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures — and in these Brexit times, extraordinary words among leaders.
Some British officials have previously compared the European Union to Nazis and Soviets, and EU Council President Donald Tusk said there was “a special place in hell” for some Brexiteers.
Tuesday saw the latest chapter in vitriolic invective among two sides claiming they want the most loving split-up ever, but too often display fits of pique in what is heading for a fighting, flaming divorce that bodes ill for future cooperation between neighbors.
With negotiations on the U.K.’s departure terms from the EU hanging precariously in the balance at a time when silence seemed golden, both sides broke the spell Tuesday.
In a tweet dripping with anger, Tusk directly addressed Johnson at his twitter handle @BorisJohnson and gave him his fill about the fast crumbling Brexit negotiations:
“You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis?” — Latin for “where are you heading?” and a reminder of a less harsh era of diplomacy.
It was a rhetorical question anyhow, since Tusk had already analyzed recent British behavior when it came to Brexit and decided that Johnson mainly wanted to head for the EU’s exit door as soon as possible and pile all the blame for fraught negotiations heading toward failure onto Tusk and the EU.
“What’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game,” Tusk told Johnson. If it is still mild by the standards of the other Donald, U.S. President Donald Trump, it immediately set European media alight.
What raised his ire was a London anonymous government debrief which said that the EU was now “willing to torpedo the Good Friday Agreement,” which has kept the peace on the island of Ireland for the past two decade, and claimed that EU made sure that “a deal is essentially impossible.”
Those two elements have been anathema to EU and German thinking so far and both denied it. At EU headquarters it was seen as a ploy to simply blame the 27 remaining member states for whatever goes wrong before the official breakup.
The German government said it never comments on such confidential telephone conversations between leaders and insisted it was still looking for a deal to avoid the chaotic exit.
That is now set for Oct. 31 if there is no last-minute turnaround for a deal. The deadline could still be extended.
The inflammatory view by the British government of the German stance immediately fired up passions.
Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP Northern Irish party aligned to Johnson, said that the idea her region would stay in an EU customs union was “beyond crazy. No. U.K. government could ever concede such a surrender.”
Johnson also likes to use the word surrender, as if the UK and EU were at war, calling Parliament’s anti no-deal bill the “surrender act.”
If not real war, it has turned into a war of words — which is nothing new for the British prime minister.
After all, Johnson once compared Brexit to Allied prisoners escaping German prison camps in “some sort of World War II movie.” And he already compared the EU’s aims to those of Adolf Hitler, arguing the bloc was trying to create a super state that mirrored the Nazi leader’s attempts to dominate the European continent.
And only last year, then foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt likened the EU to the totalitarian Soviet Union.
Tuesday was not the first time Tusk was pushed to the brink by Brexiteers.
“I have been wondering what a special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk said early this year.
Tusk, Merkel and Johnson are slated to spend a long summit meeting together next week to decide on the fate of the Brexit negotiations. There will be plenty to talk about.