I know that some of you will feel that this is a very serious subject and that it is wrong to make jokes about it. You’re right, of course. I would normally avoid publishing something that I know is going to put some backs up, but it’s there isn’t it: the elephant in the room, and I feel I have to tackle it. It’s not going away. If you feel strongly about it, I can only ask that you pass me by this week and come back to me next week, when normal service will be resumed…
I re-wrote this yesterday; I re-wrote it twice again today. Tomorrow it will be completely out of date. How is it that something that has dragged on for so long keeps changing so quickly? It’s like watching a very long chess match without noticing that they keep changing to Frustration (with only the clatter of the Pop-o-Matic dice to give the game away). It’s hard to keep up. There’s no point in watching the news: they’re more confused than I am. Please don’t judge me until you’ve checked the publication date – then just shake your head and sadly say ‘If only he knew…’ because clearly, I didn’t. I realise that this rather sad and watered-down little polemic is somewhat outside of my self-proclaimed remit, but, as it is impossible to ignore Brexit here, I thought I might as well chip in with my own two penn’orth…
So, at the risk of alienating in excess of fifty percent of you, I am going to come clean. I voted Remain. I believed then, as I believe now, that it was the correct decision. However, I also believe that I live in a democracy and that within a democracy I was outvoted, so there we are. I am a married man – I am used to it. Like getting older, Brexit is not something that I particularly want, but it is something that I will learn to live with, picking out such good bits as I can. Like rummaging through a bag of Revels and hoping to get the Malteaser.
Right, so having got that off my chest, I can move on more or less unburdened, to consider what Brexit might actually mean for you and me. As a person who knows absolutely nothing about the complexities of the whole process, I feel that I am uniquely qualified to do this. Anybody that understands it, will try to find sense in it and, let’s face it, there is none. Now, before we begin, I must admit that almost all of my statistical facts come from the BBC News website which, according to your standpoint, makes this short farrago either exceedingly biased or completely neutral. Furthermore, given that my fact-checking can be a little remiss and that I do have a disturbing tendency to believe anything I am told as complete truth, my capacity for the asinine is comprehensive. On a scale that runs from ‘Incontrovertible Truth’ to ‘Downright Lie’, I guess that the veracity of my statements must be rated somewhere in the region of ‘Wikipedia’: possibly – just possibly – within touching distance of truth, but not something that you would want to cling on to when the good ship Certainty starts to go down. Which it clearly has. Nor can I truly be so vain as to claim all of my opinions as strictly my own. My brain is a sponge. Frequently, what I espouse as my very own honestly-held opinion, turns out to be, unknown to me, a throw-away comment made by Paul Merton and shown in a compilation of all the bits from Have I Got News For You that weren’t funny enough for the original broadcast even when they were topical, some six months ago.
So, let’s fly into this head-on then. Short of having another referendum, which is actually gaining currency as I write (but with no apparent regard for whether the EU would now want us back) it appears that, like it or not, Brexit will probably happen, as it would take an Act of Parliament to stop it – and I can’t see them agreeing on that either. So, as you were… Perhaps we should begin then by looking at what I believe are our two possible modes of exit from the EU. As far as I understand it, what we are seeking is a deal that would ensure that we retain all the benefits of being an EU member, whilst incurring none of the costs – not entirely likely in all honesty – especially given that our Franco/German cousins fervently believe that they already fund all the good bits whilst we eat all the glacé cherries off the top. Anyhow, this pie-in-the-sky option is known as ‘Soft Brexit’ and is every bit as likely as Donald Trump nominating someone for high office who has not been accused of sexual impropriety.
The alternative mode of exit, as you might expect, is known as ‘Hard Brexit’. This would entail the UK leaving the EU without any sort of deal to ensure that we maintain a close working and trading relationship with the rest of Europe. This situation is considered the ideal by some and a disaster by others. Now, I remember the predicted ‘disaster’ that was the Millennium Bug: a year 2000 computer glitch that was going to plunge the whole world into darkness, bring aeroplanes crashing down from the sky and generally send the human race spiralling back into the Stone Age. I had my candles, my bottled water, my toasting fork and my thick sliced bread ready, but it didn’t happen. Nothing happened. Stuff just trundled on as it had before, civilization did not collapse, Ryanair continued to disgorge passengers at airports that were at least approximately on the same continent as the advertised destination, computers stuttered on as ever before, opening the wrong thing at the wrong time and deleting entire documents at the merest touch of the Return Key, and the prophets of doom were all left feeling just a little bit sheepish (except, it has to be said, for those who had bought one of those very expensive ‘perpetual calendar’ watches, only to discover that, thanks to unforeseen millennial circumstances, they would not be correct again until 3036, which, incidentally, would be around the time that they could expect to find the setting instructions, in the bread bin, under a vacuum-packed Naan Bread). I suspect following Brexit things will continue in much the same way as they did before it. We will see neither great loss nor great gain. We will do as we have always done: keep calm, put the kettle on and pretend that there was nothing scary in the first place. All will be well as long as it is still possible to buy fresh Greek olives, a nice wedge of Brie and a bottle of Rioja from the local supermarket. I wonder if, post-Brexit, we would be able to persuade the good vintners of Champany to market their product as ‘Fizzy French Wine’ in the UK. I’m really not certain that the possibility of a wine war is something I am prepared to lose sleep over. Honestly, if you really want something to be frightened of, please allow me to suggest that the idiot in the White House might just be a better place to start.
Let’s suppose that we decide upon a Hard Brexit; what would we do then? Would we pull up the drawbridge, suspend the ferries and brick up the Channel Tunnel? Would we refuse to eat anything that had not been boiled for weeks? Would we stop playing boules and return to ‘chucking little metal balls around on the beach’? We have to be honest with ourselves, what we really want is, one by one, the other twenty-seven member states to come to us, cap in hand, asking to join the UK.
I realise that the absence of a trade deal might mean that goods coming into the UK could become more expensive. Presumably goods leaving the UK similarly so. That being the case, so the argument goes, we may no longer be able to sell our goods in Europe at all. So why can’t we sell them here – in place of all the stuff from over there that we can no longer afford? I know, I know, it’s not that easy. I know. I just don’t know why. Anyway, I saw ‘The Bus’ during the referendum campaign and, let’s face it, we’re all going to be really rich after Brexit aren’t we…
What the fevered political hacks seem to forget is that the average human being is a fairly resourceful cove. One thing you can rely on with a human is that when an obstacle is placed in front of him/her, he/she will very quickly find a way around it. You see, now, as in 2000, I think that we will actually notice very little day-to-day difference in our lives. The government may change, but then it does that from time to time anyhow and, honestly, how much do most of us actually notice? Different faces, same lies. The TV and the newspapers will have to find other things to obsess about, and the world will continue to turn as it does today; the sun will still rise in the morning and we will continue to regret every decision we ever make almost as soon as we make it – whatever that decision may be. There is neither right nor wrong, merely the commitment to get on with things as best we can and hope that, in the long run, things will turn out for the better. It doesn’t help, I think, that the media continually refers to the whole process as a divorce, which implies, in my own very limited experience, that we will wind up not talking to one another and communicating through a third party whenever it’s our turn to have the kids for the weekend.
Now, I will admit that there has been turmoil already, but it is political turmoil, not proper strife. Politicians jostling for position, attempting to prove themselves vital to their own domestic audience – it’s not real trouble is it? Theatrical posturing and opportunistic point scoring: what politician could resist the opportunity to air his/her views on TV without being forced to defend his/herself against accusations of disgraceful behaviour towards some closet-bound skeleton of thirty years ago? And anyhow, has any of this actually affected your day-to-day life in any way, other than leaving you with the vague, uneasy feeling that you have become an audience member at some time-warp Coliseum, waiting to see which bloody gladiator will be the last man standing? (No female Gladiators: less enlightened times.) You see, all that I know about negotiation is that it requires compromise and that neither side ends up with everything they originally wanted. There can be no negotiating position from which you cannot move – that is not negotiating. Neither side is ever 100% happy with the result of a negotiated deal, but, usually, both sides are 100% happy that they have got one. How can it be possible to negotiate any deal when 50% are pre-determined to vote it down because it goes too far, whilst the other 50% are pre-determined to vote it down because it does not go far enough? Surely there comes a time when ‘possible’ trumps ‘desirable’. It is not possible to go in two directions at the same time (I know this having once been caught equidistantly between the chip shop and the pub).
One of the oddest things to have emerged over the period of the negotiations is that whilst many in the UK voted Leave on the understanding that we would be able to attain greater control over our borders and thus reduce immigration, we are now persuaded that the biggest concern we will have post-Brexit, is that we will not have enough immigrant workers in order for the economy to function. Who will work in shops, restaurants, hotels, care homes? Who will pick the fruit and veg? Who picks the fruit and veg where the migrants come from? Who used to pick it here? Who looks after their elderly and infirm? (Their family and friends? How very primitive.) I’m not certain the EU was ever actually intended to be the cheap labour equivalent of the Tesco Clubcard in the first place. Perhaps if we inhibit the activities of ‘foreign’ fruit-pickers in the UK (meaning that we would all be unable to afford our 5-a-day, consequent upon having to pay our own fruit-pickers something approaching the minimum wage) they will presumably, in turn, ban all of our students from picking their grapes and getting pissed on the proceeds.
And that’s another thing; will we even be able to visit Europe in the future? Apparently, European travel may become more difficult following Brexit. Really? When I leave the country now, I still require my passport to get wherever I am going and, ultimately, to get back again. Unless there is some sort of special provision for me alone, then I presume that the same applies to everybody else. Currently you cannot get into or out of the UK without a valid passport and that’s not going to change once we leave the EU and our passports become a different colour. (Can I make a plea here that, when we start to get our new passports, they get rid of the biometric bit – gaffer tape over it or something – as it never works for me anyway and I always end up back-pedalling out of the little electric gate thing so that I can visit the rather stern looking lady in the slightly above eye level booth at the end of the room instead.) I am fairly confident that the good people of Europe will continue to accept our freshly printed Euros in exchange for all manner of freshly minted goods and services. People used to travel quite successfully around Europe before we joined the ‘Common Market’. We all know that as human beings, when we are thrown together by circumstance, by and large we get on. We have shared experiences regardless of race and culture. When we struggle to communicate we mime and we laugh at our mutual inability to make ourselves understood. We share our sweets, show one another photo’s of our grandchildren and grimace together at our world leaders whenever they appear on the TV. One way or another, we will continue to go there and attempt to ‘educate them’ about why our way of doing things is (obviously) better, whilst ‘they’ will continue to come here to eat fish and chips, have their photo’s taken in the bucketing rain and put the jam and the cream on their scones in completely the wrong order.
In short, whether you voted Leave or you voted Remain and whatever the conclusion of the negotiations about the manner of our withdrawal, I believe that for you and I things will barely change. Our cousins across the channel will continue to be as baffled by us as we are by them and, despite the wedge that will inevitably be driven between us, we will forever be the closest of neighbours and, as long as we can speak to them very loudly and very slowly, the best of friends.
As ever, I find the greatest ‘gift’ that old age has actually brought to me is uncertainty: am I right? Will things really be ok? Well, I certainly hope so because there is one group of people whose tomorrows will be forever affected by our ham-fisted tinkerings of today, and they are the people who did not get the opportunity to vote at all when we exercised our great democratic right to determine the future. They are the people who will have to live that future: the young. Our young. Our future.
…it has just occurred to me that you may be reading this anywhere in the world and that you may not have the faintest idea of what Brexit is all about. Don’t worry, neither do we. I would also like to apologise to anyone I may have offended this week – except for Mr Trump, who definitely needs a bee up the bustle if you ask me…
Although I expect it is almost impossible to get hold of it now, I cannot recommend highly enough a book called ‘The Reluctant Euro – Rushton Versus Europe’ by the late, great William Rushton. Written after the 1975 referendum (in which we voted Remain incidentally) it is wildly out-of-date, wildly non-pc and yet still very, very funny. If you can get hold of a copy (it is full of wonderful illustrations so an e-reader won’t cut it, it has to be an old-fashioned paper book I’m afraid) I can only implore you to do so.