A post from pro-Brexit campaign group Leave.EU about German chancellor Angela Merkel has been branded ‘xenophobic bile’ in the House of Commons as social media users condemned the remarks.
Leave.EU, which was launched by millionaire donor Arron Banks, Nigel Farage and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice, took to Twitter to claim that Merkel wanted Northern Ireland to “rot inside the customs union” after details of a phone call between the European leader and Boris Johnson were leaked to the press.
They said it was “reprehensible and shows the true colours of our supposed “European allies”.
The tweet continued: “Enough of this nonsense, we walk away as an independent, self-governing nation in three weeks’ time!”
It included a graphic which said: “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut.”
The post was raised in the House of Commons by MP Chris Leslie as he attacked Boris Johnson’s team for the “dog whistle briefing” after the phone call.
The Independent Group for Change MP asked: “Can I urge the minister just to pause and reflect on the deliberate dog whistle briefing put out this morning by Number 10 against Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in the phone call apparently as reported between herself and the prime minister, which of course has then sparked a series of frankly racist attacks against the Germans from Leave.EU and others.
“This is an extremely dangerous course for the government to embark on, and I want to hear right now the minister condemn it and distance himself from it.”
Gove said that he wanted to “entirely disassociate” himself “from any sort of racist or demeaning language towards Germany”.
He told MPs: “They are our friends, our allies, they are a great country.”
His comments were supported by speaker John Bercow, who added: “I must say to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster that statement will be very warmly welcome across the House, but also by a great many outside this place, whatever their views on Brexit.
“It’s important that decorous language is used, and the honourable gentleman has just been an exponent of it.”
The tweet was criticised from a variety of voices across the political divide – including those that backed Leave – and sparked #NotInMyName to trend.
Lib Dem MP Thomas Brake commented: “This advert is nothing short of insulting and offensive. Language such as this is stoking divisions within our society and should not be considered acceptable. EU citizens are our neighbours, friends and family. This demonstrates the depths that Leave.EU will go to as they try and tear our country apart.”
Labour’s David Lammy said: “Dear Germany and the EU, please accept our apologies and do not be fooled into thinking Leave EU’s xenophobic bile is representative of the UK. A clear majority of Brits now oppose Brexit in all its forms. A vast, young and vibrant pro-EU movement in Britain stands with you.”
Scottish government minister Michael Russell wrote: “I had a meeting this afternoon with the new German Consul General in Scotland. Had I seen the appalling images from @LeaveEUOfficial I would have apologised to her. But not only Scotland abhors such things – I know no one in England who would support it. #WeHeartGermany.”
Independent MP Mike Gapes wrote: “This is disgraceful. Apologies to the German people and their government.”
Author Philip Pullman replied: “This is disgusting, and if you were capable of shame you’d know it.”
Broadcaster Nicky Campbell responded: “My mother is poorly at the moment in hospital. She is 96 and served as a Radar operator on D Day and various missions fighting the Nazis including the bombing of the Ruhr valley. She thinks this poster is ‘disgusting’. FTR.”
Emma Kennedy said: “Angela Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry. She was a research scientist who entered politics in 1989, was elected to the Bundestag in 1990 and became the first female chancellor in 2005. She has served 4 terms. Leave EU, on the other hand, are knuckle scraping racists.”
Comedian David Baddiel said: “Oh dear. Can you imagine the sheer spaffing excitement at Leave EU when someone said ‘We’ve found one of her with her arm sticking straight up in the air!!!'”
Some Brexiteers also tweeted condemnation of the message.
“I voted to leave and I am not a racist nor am I a prejudice [sic]. They don’t represent my views not millions of others. I am appalled and disgusted by it,” wrote Tom Stone.
Tyler Durden said: “Most leave voters voted to leave the EU in spite of this hateful rhetoric, not because of it. I’m embarrassed to be associated with this crap. Stop it!”
Other users responded with comedy by producing memes of the original image featuring Brexiteer politicians including Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
Following the backlash Leave.EU tweeted again to point out to the “permanently offended, liberal blue tick brigade” that Twitter rejected reports that it was hate speech.