And We’re Off!
So here we are then. As I write Theresa May will be trying to connect her laptop to the office printer, digging around her handbag for a stamp and deciding what size envelope looks best. She said early on that she would trigger Article 50 by the end of March, and she’s done that. Well done her. It’s everything else that needs deciding now, she’s done the ‘when’, she now needs to decide on the ‘how’, which is difficult seeing as so many people are still unsure of the ‘why’.
Is her ‘Dear John’ letter full of emotional explanations ending with a, ‘please don’t try to find to me’? Or, is it an angry, enough is enough ‘let’s be honest, it’s you, not me’ effort? Either way, the UK is now officially on its way out of the door. We turned up hungry to the dinner party, scoffed down everything offered to us, complained about the food and are now leaving with someone else’s bottle of wine. ‘We might be back,’ we say over our shoulder, ‘depends if we need anything else.’
I’ve tried to understand why people want to leave, and I’ve tried to consider what tangible benefits there are going to be and I still don’t get it. Control? The UK has an unelected Prime Minister and a Parliament that, thanks to a spineless, badly led opposition, voted away its own ability to ‘control’. Identity? Where is this loss of identity? Are people having trouble negotiating the streets of Peterborough because of the amount of Spanish sombreros being worn? Is there a shortage of hydrocortisone cream in Truro caused by a lederhosen-induced chaffing epidemic? But we can now write our own laws, people cry. We can. But we’re not going to; we’re going to keep the EU ones because we haven’t the will or the infrastructure to do otherwise. For some it’s the minutiae of modern life, ‘incandescent lightbulbs’, ‘plastic bags at the supermarket’, ‘working time directives’, ‘political correctness’.
‘Political correctness’ has become a dirty word. A stick used to beat a drum railing against change. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told by people that they ‘don’t go to live comedy, because it’s all politically correct these days.’ Political correctness is basically just a term for respect and good manners. What’s your problem with that? Who do you want to be rude about? And why? That’s not a fault of Europe, or even modern life, it’s just basic decency. I can’t help thinking, when I see people like Farage and Le Pen that their politics is based purely on a bitterness that they have to smoke outside. Cold weather and pictures of diseased livers on their fag packets have them howling at the 21st century like social luddites. And they deceive people into thinking that the clock can be turned back to happier, frankly non-existent times. People can bang on about the inconvenience of recycling, bendy bananas and the power of vacuum cleaners all they like, but in the end they just look like fish who have ended up stranded on the beach, and they just flap around needing someone else to do the hard work for them.
People bang on too about this ‘Great Britain’, while simultaneously slapping down Scotland for questioning that relationship, and risking a return to the old days of the troubles in Ireland. Does Brexit mean that much to you? Really? The UK won’t exist in a few years time if a Hard Brexit is pursued. It’s untenable socially and commercially, but ‘knocking Brussels’ looks good on the front pages so lets just feed people’s prejudices rather than actually be honest about the issues.
David Davis is optimistic about the future though and one can understand why. He has actually and studiously avoided looking into any of the consequences of failed EU negotiations and so sees only his own dreamy, soft-focus pronouncements about securing the ‘exact same rights as we already have.’ To which the answer has to be that in order to do that, you don’t leave in the first place. The thing for me is that, and I know I’ve said this before, business will be alright. Business will carry on. Business will find a way to negotiate its way around the single market-customs union-WTO rules conundrum and it will do so largely in private. The control that people scream they want will be decided in boardrooms and private members’ clubs. The public face of Brexit will be different; it will be about the one thing the government feels it can control, and the one thing that the public will be fed. Immigration.
David Davis said, this week, ‘From time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less.’ A typically blasé way of dismissing the issue of the workforce, the worsening skills shortage and the clamour from all corners of business and commerce to maintain what we already have. This is people he’s talking about here, actual people with families and mortgages and plans for their own future and he talks about them like they’re the equivalent to a potential shortage of teabags in the staff canteen. It’s not that easy, Dave. You can’t give a tenner to the YTS lad and tell him to ‘nip out and get a couple of Romanians.’ Business, unlike politics it seems, needs more thought and planning than that.
Like the UK and the EU itself, so far things haven’t really changed for me that much since the morning after the referendum vote last June. I have applied for French nationality but things move slowly, the negotiators will find that. So, like Europe itself, I’m still in a state of flux, and I have genuine concerns about the tax, health, travel and security issues that affect my future as a British person living abroad. The government has done nothing to assuage those fears, far from it, has preyed on them in fact in order to give the impression that they’re hard-nosed negotiators who won’t be pushed around. People born in the UK in the last 40 years are about to lose a whole swathe of rights, rights affecting their freedom to work and to live, rights that they were born with. What kind of small-minded nation cheers its own loss of human rights?
And so now the clock ticks, and if a British civil servant doesn’t turn up to the first round of negotiations and ease a Leslie Phillips style ‘tick tock’ into the conversation, then they may as well pack up and go home. Sir Digby Jones would do it, the former head of the CBI, and one of the Brexit pom-pom girls, he’s said that we’ll be ok, we’ll see the benefits of Brexit in oh, ‘about a 100 years time’. Well that’s alright then. That’s exactly what people voted for isn’t it? The reality is that the brave new thrusting, open for business, Great Britain can’t even get its new pound coins to work in supermarket trolleys and that’s not a good start. We haven’t got a 100 years Sir Digby Jones, Baron Jones of Birmingham, we’ve got two years from today, and that noise you can hear is from an avalanche of uncertainty and rancour drowned out in the heads of our Brexit Polyannas by the Benny Hill theme tune. Well, as we say in France, Bonne chance with that old son.
Thanks for reading and sharing. I will be on the telly making sarcastic topical comments this Friday night (March 31st), Comedy Big Mouths starts at 10pm on My5.
My other books are available here… Ian’s Books