November 2019 – Hold your tongue!

Nothing in recent memory has done more to inflame discussions around the use of language more than the current political landscape surrounding Brexit. Since its entrance into common parlance, this Frankenstein-esque contraction of the already clunky phrase British exit has served as the proverbial kindling for an ever-escalating firestorm of rhetoric, conjecture and hyperbole which has seemingly hijacked all sense of moderate and controlled discourse around the subject. Not least among the divided general public and media establishment, but also among politicians themselves who, despite hailing from the same political stripe, disagree profoundly about how the result of the 2016 referendum should, and can, be brought to fruition.

Regardless of your political persuasion, no other subject in recent history has been more loaded with fervent partisanism than Brexit, and why shouldn’t it be? With such a split referendum result, 52% Leave versus 48% Remain, perhaps it should have been evident to all concerned at the very beginning of the exit process in 2016 that navigating the traitorous, meandering Brexit waters would never be the reposed water park rubber ring ride that many initially envisioned. Quite to the contrary, the steady stream of Brexit secretary and cabinet minister resignations, missed Brexit deadlines and the continued political jousting between Westminster and Brussels has only demonstrated the ubiquitous difficulty of keeping an even keel whilst sailing on the wild and windy Brexit waves.

The recent change of prime minister has in turn brought with it an undeniable intensification, on both sides of the aisle, of the Brexit debate and in recent months the flagrant and often grossly divisive use of hyperbole and rhetoric during heated debates in the House of Commons has prompted many, both within and outside the political arena, to question the conduct of MPs citing the damaging nature of their conduct around Brexit on the public’s perception of the political process. Among the first to publicly denounce the inflamed use of provocative parliamentary discourse were the Church of England’s bishops who released a statement in September 2019 criticising the unacceptable nature of the current Brexit debate. Labour MP Paula Sheriff also criticised the prime minister, Boris Johnson, for his use of ‘dangerous’ language during the same Commons debate.

The following day, on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson described himself as a “model of restraint” during the debate while in the House of Commons, Speaker John Bercow stated that the House had done itself “no credit” and that, on both sides, the atmosphere in the chamber was the worst he had seen in his twenty-two years. Concluding his impassioned statement, Mr Bercow further pleaded with MPs to “treat each other as opponents, not as enemies”; a call to action much easier made than implemented.

Aside from issues of decorum and parliamentary etiquette, the language used around the potential economic impact of Brexit has also threatened to fracture the already fragile union of the United Kingdom and the hard-fought peace process on the island of Ireland.
Having overwhelming voted to remain part of the European Union, some of the fiercest language around Brexit has come from Scottish National Party MPs in the Commons and Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, who have repeated calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, terms like hard border , customs checks, the single market and the now fabled backstop, having long been flash points and sound bites in the Brexit debate, were adorned with a very real and cogent sensitivity in the run-up to the 31 October deadline. All this set against the backdrop of continued economic uncertainty and the threat of returning to the dark days of the Troubles, the use of language and terminology in Brexit has and will no doubt continue to play a key role in the inevitable, as yet uncertain, outcome of this entire political process.

Just as language continues to inform opinions on Brexit worldwide, here at WMTS, we understand the importance of using appropriate, localised marketing materials to establish and help promote your business across international markets. We pride ourselves on providing high-quality French and German into English translation, transcreation and localisation services which are sure to help boost your international sales and improve your market position.

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Author: Will Maitland

German and French > English Freelance Translator

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