'Offensive' Brexit slurs 'toxifying' debate says Tory leader

Photo: PA, Joe Giddens

The Welsh Conservative leader has written to the Assembly's Presiding Officer complaining about 'offensive' and 'aggressive' language used in a recent Brexit debate.

Andrew RT Davies says comments made by Labour members during the debate on February 7th were 'contributing to a lowering of the esteem in which the institution is held by the public. He says they risk 'toxifying the debate' and could 'worsen any tensions which exist in Welsh society.'

In his letter he singles out two Labour AMs, Eluned Morgan and Dawn Bowden for 'sensationalising the terms of discussion.'

During the debate Eluned Morgan had warned that respecting the result of the referendum didn't necessarily mean leaving the European Single Market.

She said that leaving the EU 'doesn’t mean that we should slit the wrists of the Welsh economy and watch our country follow an inexorable path to poverty.'

She'd also criticised what she said were promises made by the Leave side during the referendum, including by Andrew RT Davies, which she said were turning out to be false. The Assembly's record of proceedings quotes her as saying:

Now, promises were made during the referendum—promises that the Brexiteers started to wriggle out of the moment the referendum polls closed. One of the people who made those promises was the leader of the Tory party in the Assembly. Now, many farmers followed him like lambs to the slaughter with his promise of continued subsidies. Well, they’re now waking up to the reality: that for the first time they will have to compete with health for their funding.

– Eluned Morgan AM, Plenary 7th February

But he's most critical of comments made by the Merthyr AM, Dawn Bowden who referred to what she described as 'the lies' of the Leave campaign and 'the Goebbels-like propaganda from the right-wing media' which meant that 'immigrants became demonised.'

You can read Andrew RT Davies' letter in full below:

I am writing to raise serious concerns over the aggressive and unfortunate language used by some members in the chamber during the Welsh Government's recent debate on Brexit: 'Securing Wales' Future.'

I was disappointed with some of the language used during that session and I do feel that there is a need to remind members of their responsibility to maintain a constructive and respectful tone at all times. There is a danger that the aggressive nature of debates on the subject of Britain's vote to leave the European Union is likely to worsen any tensions which exist in Welsh society.

Whatever we may feel individually and collectively about the result we all have a responsibility to conduct that civic discussion in a rational manner and with respect.

I know that you have made every effort to ensure that Senedd proceedings are conducted in the proper fashion since becoming presiding officer, but I am sure that you will also have taken exception to some of the language used on Tuesday 7th February.

It is my view that some members are contributing to a lowering of the esteem in which this institution is held by the public, sensationalising the terms of discussion and toxifying the debate.

It cis completely unacceptable to use Brexit, and one's opposition to the result, to frame the outcome in metaphors which trivilaise serious issues.

For example, I found the Labour member for Mid and West Wales' language particularly offensive. During the debate the member equated the British people's decision to leave the European Union with 'slitting the wrists' of the Welsh economy. An appalling turn of phrase which trivialises suicide at a time when suicide rates are on the increase across the United Kingdom.

It was also unfortunate that the farmers who voted to leave the EU were said by the member to have been led 'like lambs to the slaughter.' Such aggressive, violent and personal metaphors have no place in political discourse and it is my view that the member should reflect on those comments and the offence that they may have caused to the farming community.

However my greatest concern lay in comments from the member for Merthyr Tydfil.

There is a considerable body of evidence and research of which you will be aware: Godwin's Law, in which a discussion is said to have come to an end when a participant compares another with Hitler or Nazism. for her to compare leave campaigners and leave supporting journalists with Goebbels is offensive and risks trivialising one of the most tragic events in modern history.

– Andrew RT Davies AM, Welsh Conservative leader