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Stop calling Brexit a divorce

  • Published at 12:00 am October 29th, 2019
Photo: Reuters

Though, admittedly, there are some similarities

In the currently not-very-United Kingdom, there is an unspoken understanding to avoid mentioning Brexit during conversation with strangers. At least until you’re certain the other person consents.

Even then, it is usually wise to swim away from the rabbit hole. For no matter how practiced people are, they always end up quickly shouting out their preferred solution in the hope they might never need to speak of this again.

Stand-up comedians, of course, don’t need to bother with such politeness on stage. 

Controversy helps performers, but then again boredom does not. There is little quite as tiresome, whether on the news or on an open mic stage, as hearing a hack just saying Groundhog Day and quoting that old song by the Eagles.

I can totally see why most polls today are convinced Boris Johnson’s “Get Brexit done” mantra (even if it is rubbish) will help him win the next election.

For stand ups, the best thing about Boris Johnson being prime minister is that it’s proved to more people that “BoJo” is nowhere near as amusing as he likes to think he is.

Not that he cares; getting his own way is his focus. Whenever his overgrown schoolboy act fails to get laughs, the bluster of the rugby club boor comes to the fore. 

At moments like this, it is natural to ponder why many people still find his charm genuine and appealing. Be careful. If you find this happening, look away from the screen. You are at risk of also wondering why some women find him attractive, a train of thought that can lead to trauma.

Talking of relationships, even before it began, commentators have been referring to Brexit as a divorce. It drags on for years and involves lots of lawyers, stress, and money. 

But doesn’t the use of the “D word” also mean that for some years now, the UK has been in a marriage with 27 other people? No wonder there are always unhappy souls trying to get out. 

Admittedly when it joined in 1973, there were only six original members, but even a club of nine sounds a bit too complicated for a polyamorous hippie idyll.

Either everyone admits divorce is a metaphor too far, or we let the media keep sexing up what is merely a turgid, multilateral sharing of common interests. (That’s not a euphemism.)

On the other hand, given all the intelligent full-grown adults I meet who proclaim that they, yes, they themselves, personally, won “two World Wars and one World Cup,” I may as well go with the flow and anthropomorphize the history myself. 

Are you sitting comfortably? 

Once upon a time … “Not long after the very bad thing, everyone in the small European village was getting along better. Konrad and Madeline agreed to be more than new friends and agreed a special arrangement. It’s complicated, said the French maiden, but preferable to the Prussian boy getting drunk and burglarizing everyone. Sophia proposed something extra and offered a place to sign their contract. For the sake of appearances, they agreed to take in the three small Benelux lads. There was the tiny one who had inherited a mysterious fortune, the bilingual one who some years back had done something unspeakable to that kid from the Congo, and the industrious one who lived on a boat which everyone admired.

All went well until the lady across the moat wanted to join in. Be careful said Madeline, everyone knows she’s an ancient shape-shifter with multiple personalities.

I know, we’re related.

The others understood. People from many places were fascinated by her inventions, but mostly did not trust her. Everyone knew she was notorious for nannying people to follow rules that she didn’t keep herself when visiting other people’s houses. A lot of people also got upset when she boasted (which was often) about her days as a pirate. 

Over time, doubts faded. Britannia used her powers of regeneration and was welcomed to the club. She even bought along the neighbour she used to beat up and starve, but now got on with famously. It was probably for the sake of their kids who lived in a shed in a cordoned off part of their adjoining garden. Those twins caused all manner of troubles when they were younger, people said.

She was a popular member. Many new ones followed. Now and then the ancient one would have a fit and threaten to leave. But she was always exceedingly good at making friends again. Then one day, she decided to go forever. The others were disappointed, but no one expected what happened next.

Overnight, four new heads sprouted out of her body and started arguing with each other. Then they started spinning. Anyone who stared too closely, started doing the same. Everyone else looked on with one eye closed and stayed up later and later, wondering what would happen next. 

And that was just the beginning …”

Back in what now passes for reality, the architect of Rorschach’s referendum has backed Boris Johnson’s ability to make a final deal by saying “The thing about the greased piglet is that he manages to slip through other people’s hands where mere mortals fail.”

David Cameron (for it was he) may or may not know what he is talking about with his porcine metaphor. Which I suppose holds true for anyone making predictions about Brexit.

Cameron’s trolling of his fellow Etonian came while he was plugging his memoirs. If he is hoping this might help his legacy, he needs to get out more.

When he first started promising “compassionate Conservatism” back in the noughties, Cameron liked talking about “hugging hoodies” and “fixing broken Britain.” The irony writes itself.

For leisure he said he liked to watch The Wire. Nice promises, good taste. 

A decade of austerity later. Headlines talk about schoolchildren being ensnared into delivering drugs across “county lines,” dealers fighting turf wars, dead bodies turning up in shipping containers, while developers build ever more expensive houses and useless politicians preside over cuts to services. 

Maybe he watched too closely. 

I don’t know what happens next with the old Etonian show.

It is quite addictive, but the longer it goes on, the less funny it gets. 

Asif Baul is an occasional compere and stand-up comedian.