It strikes me that the Brexit negotiations are beginning to resemble dawn in the farmyard: there’s an awful lot of cocks, making an awful lot of noise. Some of these cocks are strutting about, sashaying their plumage to its best advantage, while the others, the smaller ones, are pecking at dust hoping to find something nourishing.
Liam Fox is one of the smaller cocks.
I distinctly remember Dr Fox saying that any post-Brexit trade deal with the EU ‘would be the easiest in history’, forgetting of course that one, he knew it wouldn’t be and two, he would be part of the negotiating team. He’s now reached the stage of whining about being ‘blackmailed’ by the EU, after being told that Japan would be happy to do a trade deal with Britain, but only after they’ve signed one with the EU first. ‘Blackmail’ is often used as a bleated excuse by those who have few cards to play, but Fox and, it seems, the overwhelming majority of flag-waving Brexiteers, have vastly over-estimated their own importance; they’re victims of believing their own press. Well, I mean, who could reasonably have foreseen that?
It’s torturous viewing. I voted Remain obviously, but I get no pleasure from watching Britain’s international standing and reputation being trashed thanks to narcissistic, mendacious halfwits like Fox and Davis. I genuinely find it difficult to watch, I find those who defend them difficult to watch, I find the cherry-picking of media cheerleaders difficult to watch. It really is torture, a slow, inexorable turn of the screw; more agonising pain on the Judas Cradle. Torture, a French word, can take many forms of course. The US military used Barney the Dinosaur’s theme tune on high-volume repeat to break people; something which would make even the Dalai Llama come out swinging. Another form of torture is extremes of temperature, eventually the desiccated senses not only feel the pain of either scalding or freezing, but the anticipation brings its own sensual terrors too.
I can add a new entry into the ‘extremes’ torture book. Months and months of bureaucratic silence followed by a whirlwind of discombobulating activity so disorientating you question your own sanity. Following last week’s sudden ‘new’ paperwork requests, Natalie had taken over the search for these new wondrous documents and was on top of things. I was on a Eurostar and thanking her profusely for, once again, organising my panicky behind.
‘And…’ she added coquettishly, ‘even more than that. I just took a call from the Préfecture. You have to ring this number to arrange your ‘Citizenship Application’ interview.’
This is, of course, the end game. This is what I’ve been scratching at the window of bureaucracy for for over a year. This is the final play of the promise I made to myself and my family on the night of the Brexit referendum result. This is my chance.
I felt very ‘Foxian’ about the news though. It may have been the result of a carefully crafted campaign, it may be exactly what I’ve wanted all along but I suddenly felt very exposed, woefully inadequate and that my bluff was about to be called. Thanks to the Brexit referendum I had decided to take my leave of being a UK citizen, citing mismanagement, corruption, a lack of democracy and an invasion by hordes of swivel-eyed ninnyhammers. Now though, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
But first I had to ring the Préfecture. Now, my French has improved since my language test a year ago, but I still can’t talk on a phone. I don’t like talking on phones even when I’m speaking in English. I need to see people. I always have this impression – no matter who I’m talking to – that the person at the other end of the line is rolling their eyes or making obscene gestures to a colleague; putting me on a speaker phone and generally treating me like a rube. I had no choice though. The usual excuses went through my head: ask for an email address or get Natalie to phone saying I had a sore throat and…
I put off ringing for two days. Fear induced procrastination has always been one of my strong points, but after a stiff early morning pep talk in the mirror and a coffee so strong it would have raised the dead, I dialled the number. It was just the beginning…
A few days later and I was back at home. I can’t remember what I was doing exactly, faffing about trying to look organised and busy probably, that’s my usual shtick, but the doorbell rang so I dropped whatever it was I wasn’t doing and sauntered out to the gate. It was the Gendarmes, the Police Judiciaire. Two of them, one quite young with a perfect tan. The other, about 6 foot seven and bearded. He looked like Hagrid. They were both armed.
‘Monsieur Moore?’ Officer Hagrid asked.
‘Monsieur Yann Moore?’
‘Oui.’ I was keeping things simple.
‘We’d like to ask you a few questions.’
There was a pause.
‘Well, can we come in?’
It was tempting to ask if they had a warrant, but I rather got the impression that this was no time for jokes. Natalie arrived at the gate as well to see who it was, her look of shock immediate. ‘Bonjour.’ She said, a bit taken aback. She shot me a ‘I knew your speeding fines would rack up’ side glance.
‘Bonjour madam. We’d like to ask your husband some questions about his application for French nationality.’
Natalie immediately relaxed, ‘And they send the police round for that?’
There was another slight pause.
‘Not Police, madam’. Officer Hagrid, said testily, ‘Gendarmes.’
We moved into the front room where Samuel and a friend were chatting and where Thérence was draped over one of the sofas, the end of the holidays bringing out the full sloth in him. I introduced Hagrid and his colleague to the boys who just gaped open mouthed. Some people locally are a bit suspect about what I do anyway, and certainly about how I dress, but the look on Samuel’s friend’s face was priceless. My International Man of Mystery rating just went up. Despite their curiosity though they scattered quickly, as did Natalie, leaving me to my interrogation.
Name. Birthplace. Wife’s name. Children’s names and ages. Can I see your ID? That kind of thing. It was standard stuff and I guess they were just checking that I am who I say I am on the application, and not a dozen or so cowering refugees being fronted by a people trafficker.
‘And Monsieur Moore, are you a member of any local clubs or groups?’
It was an odd question. Obviously designed to test how far I’ve integrated, but the truth is I wouldn’t be a member of any local clubs or groups in England either, if I’d stayed there. I’m really not a local clubs or groups person. I could have said that of course, but instead went for, ‘No. But my son, Maurice, is at football training right now…’
‘Your son.’ He said quickly, looking directly into my eyes. ‘Not you.’
What I was dealing with here is good cop, tanned cop. Still, at least I hadn’t had to do it over the phone.
‘Bonjour Madame,’ I’d begun confidently, ‘J’ai besoin…’
The biggest surprise I’d had in my phone call to the Préfecture was that I understood everything, despite the medium of sightless, destabilising communications device.
‘So, to confirm then,’ said the polite, efficient lady on the other end, ‘that’s next Monday afternoon at 2.30. Au revoir.’
Hang on, next Monday?! But that gives me no time to prepare. Sorry, it gives me no time to make up for not spending the last year preparing. I’m not even sure what’s required. I’ve wanted this moment all along, and suddenly I feel under cooked and out of my depth. I just don’t feel ready. Naturally I’ll have to get back into gig mode again, bluff my way through it to a certain extent. At least look like I know what I want and what I’m doing. In other words, I just need to avoid Foxing the thing right up.
This is the 52st 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.