It may boil down to free speech versus accusations of xenophobia. But things are getting nasty between the UK and EU, and they are getting nasty within the UK itself. Brexit is beginning to have a hard tinge to it.
According to the Observer, leaders across the EU have concluded that the UK must be made to pay for Brexit, and forced down the hard Brexit route, or else the EU itself is in danger of breaking-up. Meanwhile, the UK media is under the cosh, as the Council of Europe tries to influence the way the UK media reports terrorism.
Who would have guessed that the Brexiteers, the ones who feel especially keen on hard Brexit and the leaders of the EU nations would end up on the same side. Then again, that’s the same side but for different reasons.
The Observer put it this way: “According to senior officials at the highest levels of European governments, allowing Britain favourable terms of exit could represent an existential danger to the EU, since it would encourage similar demands from other countries with significant eurosceptic movements.”
It cited one top EU diplomat as saying: “If you British are not prepared to compromise on free movement, the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.”
But there is a wider point. You can call that point Trump, you can call it Le Pen, or you can call it the forces of ‘nationalism’ there is a real fear within the EU, that Italy and then France may follow the UK’s lead, and in the process risk the break-up of the EU, itself.
EU leaders may be coming to the conclusion that the UK must be made to pay for its decision to leave the EU, including a massive divorce settlement, because if the UK is seen to benefit from Brexit, the EU will be unable to resist wider calls for exit – Frexit – France exit – Itexit – Italy exit – Netherexit – Dutch exit – etcetera. Ironically, these exit fears come just a few weeks after Citi, the bank that first started putting the suffix exit at the end of words when it warned of the dangers of a Greek crisis, decided that the odds of Greece leaving the EU were so remote, that it has dropped the word Grexit.
To illustrate this, the Financial Times cites a senior figure in the Danish administration as saying “The political environment says that we should be friendly to the UK, that we should not punish it. You need a friendly divorce. Then you look at the issues and it is clear. It is not to our advantage to be helpful and friendly. We would lose out. The more you look at the issues, the more it toughens your line.”
But while EU leaders and the Brexiteers may have a desire for hard Brexit in common, their motivations are as different as you can imagine. EU leaders appear to want to force the UK into hard Brexit to punish it, show that suffixexit does not pay, while Brexiteers see UK prosperity in hard Brexit.
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has recommended that the UK press does not use the word Muslim when discussing terrorists.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has issued a report stating: "Some traditional media, particularly tabloids... are responsible for most of the offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology. The Sun, for instance, published an article in April 2015 entitled ‘Rescue boats? I'd use gunships to stop migrants’, in which the columnist likened migrants to ‘cockroaches.’"
So the European Commission wants to see tabloids tone down on their language – some cite this an example of the EU trying to thwart freedom of the press.
Maybe, but supposing that it can be shown that some media are inciting intolerance, and making the world a more dangerous place. What then?