Two short sentences in a comments thread woke my inner satirist.
That’s an argument, not a story. A story gets an emotional reaction.
A Brexit Story
Once upon a time, the countries of Europe had a Great War. They had been preparing for one for quite some time, and it seemed a shame to let all that hard work go to waste. The Great War was so successful at requiring extraordinary amounts of hard work that they decided to have an even greater one. This second war became known in Britain as the Good Old Days.
After the Good Old Days, some of the countries of Europe had their doubts that they were actually all that good, what with the bombing and slaughter and genocide and all, and noticed that some of the extraordinary amounts of hard work that the war had created involved rebuilding things people had worked extraordinarily hard at building before. They decided that rather than fighting each other and putting up barriers against one another, both key features of the Good Old Days, they might try cooperating a bit more and bringing some of the barriers down, and see how it went. They called this experiment the European Economic Community.
Britain, meanwhile, had found the Good Old Days so enjoyable that it spent decades thinking about them afterwards, even though the first couple of decades were largely spent cleaning up, as one does after a Big Party. Then Britain, too, looked around and realised that the place was still a bit of a mess after the Good Old Days, and there still wasn’t much food in the fridge, and some people who had been at the party now wanted to be Just Friends instead of staying in a relationship, and some of the other guests from next door seemed to have got cleaned up more quickly and done the shopping and were already back at Work, and work that wasn’t just about cleaning up the mess at that. So Britain popped next door to borrow a cup of sugar, or ”join the EEC”.
Although some grumblers insisted that Britain could look after our own sugar, thank you very much, not least because of our long colonial history of exploiting distant sugarcane workers (even if they now wanted to be Just Friends), most people in Britain came to enjoy their new arrangement of borrowing some of their neighbours’ sugar and giving them a jar or two of jam in return. Before long, youngsters who barely remembered the Good Old Days looked around and realised that this new arrangement of everyone getting along with their neighbours was pretty good. They had a great time, popping into each other’s houses, hanging out for a bit, maybe moving in, maybe not, learning new recipes for patisserie and sharing their grandmas’ recipes for jam roly-poly. More people had sugar to eat, the mess from the Big Party was all tidied away, and life was—most of the time, on the whole, if not for everyone—good.
Grandma, though, didn’t like sharing her old family recipe with strangers, thank you very much, and liked it more in the Good Old Days, when there was plenty of Woolton Pie and carrot cake, and all of that bombing just made you feel alive, didn’t it? Unless you suffered a direct hit, in which case you weren’t, but the dead can’t vote, so who cares.
Meanwhile, some of the grumblers who hadn’t wanted to borrow sugar in the first place, and had spent forty years complaining about it and pointing out how complicated some of these foreign recipes were, I mean, have you ever tried to make choux pastry, decided they would have their own Little Party, the entire point of which was Not to Invite the Neighbours. Their Little Party soon became so noisy that it pissed off some of their acquaintances, one of whom had the brilliant idea of enticing them to a bigger event so that they’d be satisfied and pipe down. This event, or Referendum, was cleverly designed to undermine the grumblers by taking their complaints seriously and meeting them on their own turf, by asking people to decide Whether or Not to Invite the Neighbours. The genius part was that not only the grumblers and their acquaintances were invited: everyone was, and everyone would be bound by whatever the Referendum decided, except not really because it was non-binding, except yes, really.
A lot of people who had enjoyed their years of neighbourly life and hadn’t taken the grumblers too seriously were caught out by this, and didn’t think hard enough about what Deciding Whether or Not to Invite the Neighbours might mean for their entire recipe-sharing, popping-round-for-a-cup-of-sugar lifestyle. Their official representatives spent the Referendum arguing that sugar might get 10p a bag dearer if we don’t invite the neighbours, and that demerara might not even be available, instead of arguing as they should have done that popping next door for a friendly chat is awesome, and beats the hell out of knocking ten bells out of each other like in the Good Old Days.
The disinviters, or ”Leavers”, secretly funded by Big Sugar, spent the entire campaign emailing Grandma about how the neighbours wanted to steal her recipes and make her bake profiteroles rather than Bramwell tarts. By forming an alliance between people who never liked foreign food, people who didn’t like the idea of foreigners telling them what they should eat even though they did like foreign food, and people who wanted to buy foreign food even more cheaply than they could already, they quickly gained momentum. If they won, they said, our former colonial subjects, the ones who were now Just Friends, would surely fall over themselves to rekindle our previous relationship, a kind of ”Relationship 2.0”, and our neighbours, who would now become Just Friends, would still want to help us just as much as before even though they were No Longer Invited, because we’re such fun at parties.
Some of the inviters, or ”Remainers”, couldn’t even vote, thanks to a short-sided decision by some of their representatives a few years before to take away the votes of people who had lived too long with the neighbours. Any neighbours living with us (because they liked our recipes and liked sharing their own with us) weren’t allowed to vote either, because British people never invited themselves to any parties, except for that whole sugarcane/slave-holding illegal rave we held on someone else’s land back before the Good Old Days, which doesn’t count.
Finally, on 23 June 2016, Britain voted to have its cake and eat it, to Not Invite the Neighbours even though we have nothing against our neighbours, and to Take Back Control of Grandma’s recipe book, which turned out to have half the pages missing, was all yellowing and torn, and hadn’t had any new ones added since 1973. The Good Old Days would return, complete with rationing and barbed wire on the beaches, the neighbours would go home, and Grandma’s missing grandkids would come back to Blighty, surely grateful for the chance to eat crumble rather than Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, and her other grandkids who had never left would stay put and like it if they know what’s good for them.
After an embarrassing conversation with the neighbours, in which we asked them to leave but to please leave behind their stuff and give us more stuff and buy our stuff, in which the neighbours’ suggestions for a more equitable and neighbourly arrangement were stoutly rebuffed, Britain decided that it was better just to make a clean break of it, and slammed the door in their face. From now on we would make our own British sugar, and our own British cakes, and eat them all on our own, even if it’s a bit hard to pop to the shops for ingredients when we’ve just locked the front door. When are you coming around to visit? Kids today, I don’t know. Why isn’t anyone responding to my alarm bracelet?
After an embarrassing conversation with the neighbours, in which we asked them to leave but to please leave behind their stuff and give us more stuff and buy our stuff, in which the neighbours’ suggestions for a more equitable and neighbourly arrangement were met with arguments and confusion, the grandkids took Grandma aside and suggested that if we didn’t agree to forget about all of this then they’d put her in a home, where there wouldn’t be any carers because most of them were actually neighbours who had quit after getting sick of the old folks being rude about them. Grandma, after careful consideration, decided that she quite liked a nice éclair, and that she’d forgotten how awful some of the old recipes in her book were, and that it wasn’t going to be just like the Good Old Days anyway because at least some of the neighbours were our friends then, and that maybe the Newer Days hadn’t been so bad. So she told the neighbours that she’d changed her mind, and invited them around for a cuppa to make amends, and everyone agreed to pretend it had never happened. Oh, Grandma.