The idea was that if I took the summer off, I would calm down. A few weeks where gradually, daily, I would reduce my ‘Brexit’ news intake so by the August Bank Holiday, I’d be more relaxed than a Dali clock. ‘Brexit?’ I’d say, laughing, ‘whatever will be, will be. Pink gin?’ And not, as seemed likely a few weeks ago, I’d start digging a hermit’s bunker and twitching like a jungle warfare vet whenever the B word was mentioned.
Well, like Brexit itself, it wasn’t much of a plan and it simply hasn’t worked. I tried to relax, I really did. I took Twitter and news apps off my phone, bought a bead necklace, which I admit is the middle aged male equivalent of holiday henna tattoos and hair braids. I stopped drinking (briefly) and even started exercising. In other words, I tried really, really hard to relax. Which is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
I expected, hoped, that once I raised my head from my self-imposed trench things might have moved on, some coherent strategy might have been formed, flesh put on the bones. Nah. Boris kicked off the summer by saying that the EU could go and ‘whistle’, which is exactly the kind of nuanced, reasoned diplomacy you’d want from your Foreign Secretary and not at all that of a glue-sniffing shoplifter telling a shop assistant to ‘swivel’. There was a hoo-haa over Britain leaving EURATOM, the European Atomic regulation body, when it was ‘suddenly’ discovered that this would be bad news for UK Atomic regulation, research and even cancer patients.
‘Something must be done immediately!’ Thundered Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson, conveniently forgetting that EURATOM was mentioned specifically in the brief Article 50 letter, and had therefore been on the agenda for some time. Christ, even I was writing about its effects in February, and I wasn’t one of those whipped by Jeremy Corbyn into voting the thing through without question or scrutiny. Corbyn has, I believe, spent his summer practicing his walking on water techniques. He occasionally ventures back into the public eye to make statements like ‘You have to be in the EU to be in the Single Market.’ Presumably this came as something of a surprise to Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein who are exactly that. Regardless, he went on to peddle the right wing fallacy that immigration had reduced workers’ wages and therefore hard controls on immigration were necessary as was leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. In other words, Labour has adopted the UKIP approach to Brexit. How wonderfully edifying that is. The Nationalists and the Socialists in one cosy bed, they should form an alliance and call themselves… no, hang on.
A few good friends have said to me over the summer that ‘he doesn’t mean it.’ That when he comes into power ‘we’re hoping he won’t do that.’ So, he’s lying then? Which makes him, again, as duplicitous as the rest of them. Corbyn would do well to remember that the majority of Labour voters in the General Election were Remainers. I, for one, won’t stick around ‘hoping’.
Brexit negotiations began in earnest with the usual half-witted rallying cries. James Dyson, inventor, Brexiteer and patriot said that the farming industry must have some immigration leeway so that it could continue to use cheap, migrant labour. He knows something about cheap labour does Patriot James, having moved his factories to Malaysia rather than pay the Great British worker a decent wage. Others asked why we should negotiate at all with the EU, just walk away. After all, we’re not like ‘them’, ‘we’ve never been invaded’, said one, it slipping his mind that we and our language are very much a product of Roman, Norman and Viking invasions. We’re still being invaded now, premier league footballers, for example. Anyway, I thought the whole point was that we are being invaded. Hordes of immigrants, remember them? That’s why we need to… oh forget it.
Even as I got back from Barcelona I was still a bit relaxed. Then the government talked of launching a high-level investigation into the pros and cons of immigration. Seriously, more than a year after the Brexit vote, years after you’ve all been using immigration as an excuse for the effects of austerity and now you investigate it? And the thing is, amidst all the madness that flies about, this barely raises an eyebrow. The government, knowing that a hard Brexit outside the Single Market and the Customs Union would need a hard border in Ireland, then warn the EU that they will be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement should the border be erected. They also published a policy document on a transitional customs union to be established while staying in the existing customs union for a transitional time. Like many such ‘policy clarifications’ it ended with the UK government asking the EU if they had any ideas! I’m not making that up. I wish I was.
David Davis, whose face now looks like a crumpled paper bag full of monkey nuts, continues to announce new Brexit ‘clarifications’ and insisting that it is always ‘in the EU’s interest’ to back them. That these policies are rarely, if ever, even in the UK’s interest doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest. It’s obvious, more so by the week, that there was never a plan, we know that. But 14 months after the vote you’d hope to see some sense of common direction. Liam Fox avoids detail by shouting, ‘it’s the BBC’s fault’ and ducking behind the Downing Street bins. Others, for instance, when the EU made it clear that leaving the EU meant Britons wouldn’t be covered by the EU healthcard, decry that the EU are playing hardball and being unfair. Too right. I remember when I cancelled my subscription to Sky Sports, Sky Sports then told me I couldn’t watch anything on Sky Sports! Can you believe that? Hardball bastards.
I’m supposed to be calming down. Barcelona was a wonderful holiday, and then another nutjob – who like all the other nutjobs refuses to move on – sickeningly ploughs a van through tourists and locals on Las Ramblas. We were having lunch there as a family two weeks ago and it’s just heart-breaking.
I haven’t been completely idle over the summer. I made a special trip to Tours to check on my application for French nationality. My friend Colin and his wife in Paris, had a baby girl recently to which Colin noted that since he began his own French citizenship process last November, he and his wife have made an entirely new person. I didn’t hold out much hope for news in Tours then, but I needed to do something.
‘Hello,’ I said nervously. I was nervous partly because I always am when I speak French and partly because the very attractive middle aged lady behind the desk was obviously very proud of her décolletage. She was thrusting her chest at me aggressively like I was being man-marked at a corner in a football match. My French is built on straw anyway, antagonistic cleavage is just one more thing that’s likely to blow it down.
‘Hello,’ I repeated, maintaining eye contact, ‘I sent my application for citizenship off to you in January, it’s now August. I was…’
‘C’est normal!’ She said, ‘Next!’
C’est normal. It’s a French expression meaning, obviously, ‘it’s normal’, ‘that’s how it is’, ‘it’s what we do’. An all-encompassing, ‘what did you expect?’
You’re right, I thought. What did I expect? Nothing changes, change itself is negotiable, as is the rate of change, the nature of change and what changes need to be made before change can actually happen. There’s another French expression, ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ The more things change, the more things stay the same. You got that right.
This is the 50th Full English Brexit blog, and – hopefully – will be part of the book. When that book comes out is difficult to say, it’s with a brilliant agent and the feedback is good… but, you know, Brexit innit?
My other best-selling books are available here IAN’S BOOKS.