Arron Banks has apologised after Leave.EU tweeted a xenophobic meme of Angela Merkel that invoked Britain’s world war victories to target the German chancellor.
The image was condemned by cross-party MPs and later deleted by the pro-Brexit campaign group, but the businessman and Leave.EU co-founder initially defended it. The meme, which was reminiscent of wartime propaganda posters, said: “We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a Kraut,” alongside a photo of Merkel stood with her arm aloft.
It was accompanied by a comment saying: “Angela Merkel’s demand that Britain leaves Northern Ireland to rot inside the customs union is reprehensible and shows the true colours of our supposed ‘European allies’.”
The furore came after a No 10 source said Merkel’s demands for Northern Ireland after Brexit had made a deal “essentially impossible”, leading to accusations that Boris Johnson was trying to play a “stupid blame game”.
In the Commons on Tuesday, the Independent Group for Change MP Chris Leslie criticised the “deliberate dog-whistle briefing” and warned of its consequences.
“It has sparked a series of frankly racist attacks against the Germans, from Leave.EU and others,” he said. “This is an extremely dangerous course for the government to embark on, and I want to hear – right now – the minister condemn and distance himself from it.”
Michael Gove, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, dissociated himself from “any sort of racist or demeaning language towards Germany” and said he had reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to friendship at a German day of national unity event at the country’s embassy last week.
“The Germans are our friends and our allies, and Germany is a great country,” he told MPs, after politicians from across the spectrum had earlier criticised the image.
The Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “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.”
The Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, Tom Brake, said the advert was “insulting and offensive”.
“Language such as this is stoking divisions within our society and should not be considered acceptable,” he said. “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.”
Banks tweeted an apology on Wednesday morning, saying: “The Leave.EU team went too far yesterday but the real outrage is the German suggestion that Northern Ireland be separated from the UK. As a result we will delete the post and apologise accordingly … on reflection the point could have been made better.”
Leave.EU retweeted the post as it said: “We’re sorry.”