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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

Oh, what a wonderful Brexit – March 29 imagined

Jonathan Gornall imagines how Theresa May's speechwriters might have briefed the prime minister had the UK crashed out of the EU on Friday

March 29 was not the celebration Theresa May hoped for. AFP
March 29 was not the celebration Theresa May hoped for. AFP

So in the end, prime minister, the no-deal Brexit wasn’t half as disastrous as everyone feared.

True, supplies of French brie and life-saving drugs dried up overnight, more than £150 billion was wiped off the stock exchange and no amount of suddenly worthless sterling could secure the services of a Polish plumber or Bulgarian fruit-picker.

But emphasise the positive. For those who two years earlier voted for Brexit in a fit of flag-waving, isolationist xenophobia, surely no price is too high for casting off the European shackles that for too long compromised British sovereignty and stifled the ingenuity of British cheesemakers?

Best to ignore Trump’s early-morning tweeting frenzy about the ungenerous terms of the risible trade deal he’s offered us

PM's speech writer

Now, freed of the restrictions of EU Protected Designation of Origin rules, we can call our own smelly soft cheese Camembert if we so wish – although, on the down side, I understand factories in France, Belgium, Germany and Spain are racing to knock out counterfeit Cornish pasties, fake farmhouse cheddar and sham Shetland wool.

Regardless, at 11pm on March 29 it was, once again, great to be British. To be one of the estimated dozens who partied long into the night in Trafalgar Square, recalling an earlier victory over their continental neighbours in the shadow of Nelson’s column as they joined the heroes of the hour – Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg – in spirited renditions of Rule Britannia.

Britons shall, indeed, never, never, never be slaves. Best to ignore Trump’s early-morning tweeting frenzy about the ungenerous terms of the risible trade deal he’s offered us.

Bare shelves in Belfast

Certainly, the fireworks display wasn’t all it might have been. The pyrotechnics were ordered months ago from China, but they got held up in customs at Tilbury Docks, Essex, as officials tried to figure out which tariff to apply.

Likewise, consignments of food, chemicals, clothing and pharmaceuticals from European and US suppliers were stuck in sealed storage in Dublin as the Irish government adhered to EU protocol and closed the border between north and south.

Prime minister, careful what you say about the old backstop, which was designed to keep the Irish border open no matter what but ended up scuppering all hope of an orderly Brexit. Now, seen from the perspective of the angry mobs rampaging through bare-shelved supermarkets in Belfast and Londonderry, it seems like it might have been a fairly reasonable idea.

But what matter that, in the cold light of the morning after B-day, pharmacy shelves were stripped of the aspirin required to salve aching heads, or that arch Brexiteer Rees-Mogg had, like his recently relocated City investment fund, fled to the Republic of Ireland to avoid the financial consequences of the hard Brexit for which he had campaigned so determinedly?

Britons are used to toughing it out – we welcome the chance to revive the old Blitz spirit, in fact.

Which is just as well, really. Tens of thousands who had been planning to fly out of the country to continental destinations were met at the airport with the news that they required visas – and that, this being a Saturday, European consulates wouldn’t reopen until 10am on Monday.

Embracing wonky bananas

Not that many aircraft were going anywhere. That "Project Fear" scare story about European landing rights for UK airlines being rescinded overnight in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Turns out to have been true.

Likewise, that line about UK cash cards not working in machines abroad. They don’t.

Besides, there’s also the issue with the passports, which some EU countries are declining to accept because they still bear the words 'European Union' on the cover.

Regrettably, it will take many months to replace all 55 million suddenly worthless British passports – once they are available.

Suddenly the decision last year to save £120 million by awarding the contract for printing the new true-blue passports to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto instead of the UK’s De La Rue seemed a little unfortunate.

Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday she is prepared to step down "earlier than I intended" to get her Brexit divorce deal through the UK Parliament. AP
Brexit has been a testing time for UK leader Theresa May. AP

Gemalto, faced with unexpected import tariffs and with their containers impounded in Dover, are now demanding £120mn in compensation from the British government.

But we thrive on such adversary. Thousands of Britons who planned to cross the Channel on ferries may have found themselves trapped in their vehicles in the apocalyptic traffic jam stretching back from the Port of Dover that has transformed the M20 into the world’s largest car park.

But which of them would resent that minor inconvenience in the knowledge that, in return for their temporary suffering, the UK had won back the right to dictate the shape and size of the bananas it could import?

(Incidentally, one adviser has suggested that at this point, prime minister, you produce a thoroughly wonky banana, perhaps adorned with a Union Flag sticker, and slap it on the podium for effect, but the rest of us think this might be going just a little too far.)

Troops on standby

I should acknowledge that we can expect some disturbances in the Midlands, following the joint announcement by a number of foreign-owned car manufacturers that they will be closing their UK plants because they can’t guarantee access to the imported parts they need.

I suspect not many of those in the region who so enthusiastically voted for Brexit and who will be overwhelming the jobcentres on Monday realised just how little of the British car industry actually remained British.

Either way, they can now wave goodbye to Bentley (owned by Germany’s Volkswagen), Jaguar (India), Land Rover (ditto) and the Mini. Despite the Union Flag paint jobs, the iconic little car belongs to BMW.

Honda and Toyota have offered to stay put – provided we give them outrageous tax breaks and you ditch your official Range Rover for a Jazz

PM's speechwriter

Even Aston Martin (owned by Kuwaiti and Italian investment firms) is hitting the high road, which I understand creates a PR problem for the makers of the next Bond movie.

The good news is that Honda and Toyota have offered to stay put – provided we give them outrageous tax breaks and you ditch your official Range Rover for a Jazz.

On a positive note, prime minister, we haven’t yet had to use the 3,500 troops we put on standby, and the Ministry of Defence feels confident it can release at least some of the 100,000 tins of baked beans it was storing in its underground command bunker in Whitehall.

Finally, don’t forget to remind the country that the clocks go forward on Sunday and that we’ll all be back on good old British Summer Time. Monday marks the start of a brand new week, and a brand new Britain, etc.

Probably don’t mention that Monday is April Fool’s Day.

Updated: March 28, 2019 03:17 PM

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