The Brexit debate is not exactly famed for nuanced, understated contributions by statesmanlike parliamentarians.
Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s more well-known for its ridiculous propositions, outlandish claims and vicious rows.
Add the thorny issue of the border and Northern Ireland’s history of violence and division to this atmosphere, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
The DUP, whose MPs prop up Theresa May’s premiership, have been the first to criticise what deputy leader Nigel Dodds calls “highly reckless talk” by the Irish government. Dodds branded warnings over the potential of a hard border on the island “extremely dangerous in the present circumstances” before calling for comments by neighbouring ministers to be “toned down”.
But a quick probe of the pro-Leave party’s own language during negotiations shows its own rhetoric over Brexit can be somewhat alarming.
1. Arlene Foster’s ‘Blood Red’ Line
The DUP, who were the only party to oppose 1998′s Good Friday Agreement, pride themselves on taking a robust stance over the union and Brexit.
This was especially apparent when DUP leader Arlene Foster highlighted how strongly opposed she was to some Northern Ireland regulations being aligned to the EU after Britain’s departure from it.
“There cannot be a border down the Irish Sea, a differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK,” she told the BBC.
Asked if this was a red line for the DUP, Foster was uncompromising: “The red line is blood red.”
Sinn Fein – not exactly a friend of the DUP’s – called the phrase “bizarre”, while Irish Times journalist Claire Simpson said: “There are certain words which are best avoided in political speeches and blood is one of them.”
2. Sammy Wilson Compares Brexit Talks To IRA Terrorism
Yes, really. And not just once.
The East Antrim MP told the BBC: “We fought against a terrorist campaign to stay within the UK.
“We are not going to let the EU break Northern Ireland just like we didn’t let the IRA.”
Wilson, who is also the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, later told Channel 4: “We’ve endured 40 years of terrorism to remain part of the United Kingdom. Thousands of people died in that terrorist campaign to stay part of the union.
“If the EU think that what the IRA couldn’t achieve, they’re going to achieve, they have another thought coming to them.”
Anyway, moving on ....
3. Sammy Wilson Calls Leo Varadkar A ‘Nutcase’
The Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar also clearly failed to impress Sammy Wilson over his handling of Brexit.
Wilson told Politico in January: “It was always our view at the very start of this process that the biggest ally we would have when it came to negotiating with the European Union was Dublin, and indeed that always was the impression we got when Enda Kenny (the former Irish prime minister) was in power, but since this nutcase Varadkar has taken over that things have all changed.”
Varadkar was also branded “naive, arrogant and inexperienced” for siding with European Union negotiators.
Wilson later said he regretted the “nutcase” comment.
4. Ian Paisley Shouts ‘No Surrender’ In Parliament
MP Ian Paisley called for Theresa May to display a “no surrender attitude” in Brexit talks as he claimed EU leaders were bullying the UK.
The phrase is part of a unionist chant about the IRA, and is viewed today by some as controversial.
Some Irish nationalists not linked to the IRA, meanwhile, find it offensive.
Asking a question in the House of Commons, Paisley said: “Does the minister agree with me that it’s about time the government demonstrated a no surrender attitude to the EU bureaucrats, who try to blackmail us, bully us, over air flights, passenger duty and everything else?”
The North Antrim MP added: “Stand up to them man, and stand up to the EU and let’s get on with leaving the EU.”
5. Ian Paisley Compares Brexit To ‘Hanging’
Paisley may have been paraphrasing Samuel Johnson, the author who compiled the very first English dictionary, when he compared a crucial Commons vote on Brexit to “a hanging”, but it nonetheless raised eyebrows.
He was speaking in December 2018, just days before Theresa May decided to delay the so-called meaningful vote on her Brexit plan, when he also claimed “the gallows are being built” for her deal.
“Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging,” he said. “Next week, the prime minister will be staring into the abyss in terms of what happens next because she can’t unite her own party around her agreement.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley later told reporters it was not language she would use.
6. EU ‘Punishment Beating’ UK, Says Sammy Wilson
Sammy Wilson faced criticism (again) for comparing the PM’s rejected draft Brexit deal to a “punishment beating”.
The phrase is controversial, because it was used to describe vigilante attacks carried out by paramilitaries during the Troubles.
The assaults are said to still regularly take place today, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
Wilson, however, claimed he was using the words to show the EU was treating the UK harshly for “daring to vote to leave”.
He managed to fit the phrase in three times during an interview with Sky News: “This is all about a punishment beating for the UK because they dared to vote to leave the EU.
“And unfortunately the prime minister has allowed that punishment beating to be administered.
“That punishment beating in my belief will damage the UK and damage the UK constitution.”