I watched today, along with the rest of the world, in stunned horror, as Great Britain decided – against all predicted outcomes – to pack her very dignified trunks and take herself off for an extremely long weekend at the country estate. As her shiny Rolls Royce (one must buy British), weighed down with the collective clutter of a nation state’s realisation of what they had just done, and Boris Johnson’s ego, made its way along Pall Mall in a semi-triumphal tooting of one’s own horn, the number plates seemed to flash and change in the twinkling of an eye: GREAT BREXIT 1.
Brexit. The portmanteau in and of itself is awkward, reminiscent of a Mad Men-esque advertising campaign. It makes me think of vitamin capsules, or worming tablets, or perhaps a laxative; something vastly underwhelming, possibly a bit nasty, which the gurus in marketing have to sell with a great deal of razzamatazz and fast talking to disguise the non-FDA approved contents. ‘Brexit; we don’t know what benefit it’ll have, and you said no to it in 1975, but by gravy, we’re going to make you want it now.’
I was raised on a solid diet of England. Australia in the 1970s was not, especially in small country towns, a place of great multicultural, or, for that matter, differently loving awareness. I read British children’s books, British classic novels, and serialised efforts such as Bunty, Jack and Jill, and later on, to my mother’s eternal disgust, Beano and Viz. We ate hot Christmas turkey and pudding, despite the temperature being in the zillions, because that’s what happened in Britain. We listened to the Queen’s Christmas Day encouragement after lunch, and then fell over until it was time to get up for the cricket on Boxing Day.
But times change, and just as we grew up, and out, so did the Mother Ship. She got a little bit more cool, did Britannia, and despite hundreds of efforts by the IRA, the Real IRA, IS, Margaret Thatcher and the unions equally, those involved in Lockerbie, Brixton horrors times many, ricin poisoning, and thousands of individual terror attacks perpetrated by excusists and cowards, she stayed on the side of the cucumber sandwiches; cool, refreshing, a little bit bland, perhaps, but in and of the world. Mockable, because Britain; but admired as well. Steadfast. A peacemaker. On the side of the angels – and on the side of Europe, as she had been in two heinous wars.
Plus, here and now, in 2016, the Queen was having a rip-roaring birthday celebration, Princess Charlotte and Prince George were being cheeky monkeys, and Harry was well tidy.
Things were looking, if not up, then at least not down, which was as good as the rest of the world had it, so mustn’t grumble, eh?
I’m not sure Her Majesty would know how to say ‘Brexit’. Quite possibly the Duke of Edinburgh thoroughly approves, as he believes it involves building a massive great barbed wire fence around the country and instigating Checkpoint Charlie to foreigners, gays, and the Irish. This is of course my own imagination running wild, and not based at all on his past behaviour.
In all seriousness, what Brexit means for Great Britain is unimaginable. And that’s the problem. This isn’t about returning to a lost Utopia, a land running with scones and cream, where every day is a gin and tonic and every man is king of his own castle in the sky. This is an exit not just from the EU, but from a sensibility of thought and shared responsibility. It is a conscious withdrawal from economic care, from a determined shouldering of a continent’s fight against terror, and from a community’s battle to see the whole remain greater than the sum of its parts.
That was how the The European Convention on Human Rights was formed, incidentally in large part due to an Englishman, working side by side with a Frenchman.
So whilst Boris and the Vote Leave brothers in arms may feel they are stepping backwards into the glory of the past, I fear they have been lulled into a half-dream by memories of a time they know only through the reminiscing of others. A second-hand reliving of a time when Britain ruled the world from that tiny pink shrimp sailing in a sea of superiority and leftover military glory.
Oh, my Britannia. Such sadness to watch you retreat to the darkness of 1953. David Cameron has said he doesn’t want to be the captain who steers this ship onward.
Well, no. Because it’s the bloody Titanic.
And as the Boris Johnson Orchestra plays a selection of hits including ‘whoops, what’s that big icy thing there, lads — oh wait, phew, it’s just an iceberg, not a socio-economic disaster’, and the HMS Cluster goes arse-end up to the North Sea floor, I’d like to take a moment to say just one thing.
Guess what, Boris?
Donald Trump thinks it’s a good idea, too.