Opinion: Push back the EU referendum | Opinion | DW | 17.06.2016
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Opinion: Push back the EU referendum

Hate overshadows the EU referendum. Amidst the distorted campaigning, a horrendous crime has left a British member of parliament dead. This needs to stop, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

The United Kingdom is in shock. More than that, many Europeans interested in the EU referendum and also many Europeans that bear responsibility in Brussels are disgusted. This forces the question: Is it really all worth it? How can it be that the political dispute over the UK's course has claimed a life?

The cowardly murderer appears to have killed out of hate. That's also how the widower of Jo Cox sees it. It was a hatred of the political class, hatred of the establishment, hatred of a completely false picture of the EU. This wasn't just a malicious, senseless murder of a mother and a political talent. This was an attack on the UK's democracy. How did things get this far?

Both sides have poisoned the political climate with a seldom-seen harshness, with unbelievable mudslinging, lies, false numbers, ridiculous claims and fear mongering. Proponents of separating from the EU - or making a so-called "Brexit" - tried to scare people with the mention of Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union, invasion fantasies and floods of asylum seekers. The "Stay" campaign saw world peace, prosperity and all of Europe in danger. And they, too, stoked fears, but not as drastically as the populistic "Leave" campaign. Not by a long shot. The demagogue Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) should ask himself whether he went too far.

Even worse was the Britain First Party, which, according to its website, hates "white, left-wing journalists." It remains unclear whether Jo Cox's murderer had cried out "Britain First" during the horrible attack, but there are eye witnesses that say he did. A Britain First spokesperson had the nerve to dispute any correlation and to attack the media for its coverage.

Riegert Bernd Kommentarbild App

DW's Brussels correspondent Bernd Riegert

The parties involved in the heated EU referendum battle aren't legally accountable for the crime, but they do bear responsibility: responsibility for the aggressive atmosphere that could have incited the perpetrator. The UK experienced political assassinations during its conflict with the IRA. But the last crime against a member of parliament was 26 years ago.

In Germany, the political mood is becoming more and more aggressive. Politically-motivated violence from the right and also from the left is on the rise with the dispute over refugee policies. There have also been similar attacks against German politicians, including two in 1990 - one against then-SPD chancellor candidate Oskar Lafontaine and one against then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. The latest assassination attempt occurred last year in Cologne against Henriette Reker, who was running for mayor at the time.

In one week, voters across the United Kingdom are supposed to decide whether or not to leave the European Union. Will this even be possible? The EU referendum campaigns have been suspended until the weekend. But a day-long ceasefire isn't enough. The referendum should be pushed back a few weeks for tempers to cool and for the fear and hate to be removed from the campaigns. They need to take a step back and ask themselves: How could it get this far? Do we really want to keep going this way? They owe at least that much to Jo Cox and her family.

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