by Marc BURLEIGH
Britain’s most senior EU official launched a stinging attack on Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, branding his comments about death threats against lawmakers “crass and dangerous”.
Johnson’s combative return to parliament on Wednesday following his humiliating Supreme Court defeat drew further criticism in Brussels, with a senior member of the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group accusing him of deliberately “antagonising” his way to a no-deal Brexit he can blame on others.
The prime minister is facing an angry backlash at home for his dismissive response to MPs complaining about his rhetoric and citing the fate of a colleague murdered by a far-right extremist during the Brexit referendum campaign.
Julian King, since 2016 Britain’s member of the European Commission, the bloc’s powerful executive, made a highly unusual intervention on Twitter to criticise Johnson.
“Crass and dangerous. If you think extreme language doesn’t fuel political violence across Europe, incl UK, then you’re not paying attention,” wrote King, whose work on the commission’s security brief has included confronting a rise of right-wing populism in online discourse.
Johnson has repeatedly used the word “surrender” to refer to the law forcing him to seek a new Brexit extension in case of no deal, and on Wednesday said that the best way to honour Jo Cox, the pro-European MP murdered during the 2016 campaign, was to “get Brexit done”.
A European Commission spokeswoman said: “We would remind everybody that respect is a fundamental value of all our democracies and it is the responsibility of each and every politician to uphold our values. And history has shown us what happens when they’re not respected.”
The spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, did not say whether King’s scathing comment was representative within the commission.
‘Antagonising, confronting, insulting’
As he arrived for a steering group briefing with EU negotiator Michel Barnier, Greens MEP Philippe Lamberts said “Prime Minister Johnson is just antagonising, confronting, insulting” instead of trying to forge consensus around his Brexit strategy.
Barnier was more diplomatic and refused to be drawn on Johnson’s weakened hand this week after Britain’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled to void his attempt to suspend the UK parliament.
“You gave to understand I don’t want to — and I will not — comment on what happens in Westminster. Our side has always been respectful of the situation of British politics,” he said, adding that “we are still ready to work on a legal and operational proposal with the UK.”
On Friday, Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for their latest round of talks.
Lamberts said “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist” to see that Johnson was looking for a scapegoat to blame no-deal Brexit on.
“His strategy … I believe it has been all along to provoke a no-deal Brexit, but in a way that would allow him to blame others — so either Brussels or Westminster — for leading the country into no deal,” Lamberts said.
© Agence France-Presse