On Friday, March 15, my ten o’clock morning consultation was with Sir Percy Hampton Churchill Saxe-Coburg Hanover Blithering-Snipe Smythe-Smith-Smythe Kensington VI, PhD OS FHS KCVO LLE OBE HFRS BYOB, Economic Attaché to the Royal Embassy of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II of the Court of Saint James’s, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to the United States of America. We were supposed to discuss analyses of natural gas price elasticities under data-driven tariff scenarios based on heuristic Monte-Carlo models under various climate-change assumption vectors for the period 2021 through 2026, but midway into the first set of partial differential equations, be broke down bawling like a baby.
“Jesus Christ, Percy,” I beseeched. “What the hell is the matter?”
“Brexit!” he sobbed. “Bloody Brexit! I can’t stand this barmy frigging Brexit bilge anymore!”
“Well,” I commented as I handed him a tissue, “I can’t say I blame you. There’s certainly been more than enough barmy frigging Brexit bilge to go around the last three years.”
“And we’ve had enough of it!” he wailed as he blew his nose. “We’re completely knackered! We’re totally shagged! We’re absolutely buggered, I tell you – we simply cannot abide another bloody minute of it!”
“But you must,” I observed. “It’s your civic duty. Parliament, in its wisdom, has yet to successfully cast a meaningful vote.”
“Please!” he barked in an exasperated tone, “If I hear that phrase one more time, I shall surely go utterly mad!”
“’Meaningful vote?’” I sought to confirm.
“Of course!” he shouted back. “What do you think I meant – ‘civic duty?’ ‘Parliament in its wisdom?’ And don’t split infinitives in front of me, Collins! I didn’t get a First at Oxford to end up listening to some Yank butcher my native tongue like that! ‘To successfully cast…’ Is that what they teach you in Second Form here? You should have said, ‘… has yet to cast a meaningful vote successfully,’ you know that, don’t you? Oh, damn it all! Now you’ve got me saying it!”
“’Meaningful vote?’” I repeated.
“Yes!” he fumed, now exceedingly vexed. “May lightning strike me dead on the spot if I am not speaking the absolute truth when I tell you, Collins, I wish to never hear that phrase again, ever, in my lifetime!”
“My apologies,” I offered. “I’ll be very careful to avoid saying it any more. And as for that split infinitive, I blame Star Trek, actually. That show destroyed proper use of them for an entire generation of Americans.”
“Right, and then you invented the Internet,” he groused, “and destroyed the rest of English grammar – along with the attention spans of everybody under the age of forty, it seems. These days, if I write a memorandum longer than five paragraphs, it comes back with email Replies that say ‘TLDR. Cut to half page.’ And incidentally, Collins, do you happen to know what that acronym means?”
“’Too Long, Didn’t Read,’” I told him.
“Oh, bollocks,” he mused, “serves me right for asking. Between television and the Internet, the entire human race is turning into an unruly mob of illiterate imbeciles.”
“Maybe,” I speculated, “that’s where Brexit came from.”
“That and your President Trump,” he growled, followed by another loud honk on the tissue I had given him.
“On that point, you will get no argument here,” I replied. “Although I think it’s specific types of Internet artifacts, like chat rooms, online games and social media that contributed, along with television, to the further reduction of collective IQ and widespread diminution of everyone’s attention spans. As I recall, the Internet initially offered some respectably thorough and extensive content. As a matter of fact, there are still some places on the Internet where you can find things written for people who have a intelligent person’s attention span.”
“I find that,” he muttered, “rather hard to believe.”
“No surprise there,” I acknowledged, “but rest assured, despite vapid, fatuous techo-trash like Facebook, Pokemon Go, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, such URLs still exist. They were on the Internet before all that crap showed up, and they will be on the Internet after all that crap is long gone.”
“So,” he shot back, “perhaps there is hope for the English language after all. But for England? I don’t know, Collins, I just don’t know. Look at what a knob-headed pig’s ear of a mess Brexit is! Since 2016, the United Kingdom has become the laughingstock of the world!”
“Actually,” I averred, “It was my impression that since 2016, the United States of America has become the laughingstock of the world.”
“Oh, marvelous!” Sir Percy moaned, “While once we presided over an empire upon which the sun never set, today Britain plays second fiddle to the US in every category, including whose government is the most pathetically ridiculous!”
“Well,” I consoled, as I consulted one of those parts of the Internet containing genuine, useful information,“maybe you are number two, but here in America, what that means to us is that you try harder. And nobody can deny, when it comes down to being pathetically ridiculous, Brexit proves you folks try as hard as a civilized nation can. I mean, sure, we Americans have Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump’s children, but could any of their antics, no matter how zany, come close to the pure, surreal absurdity of the European Union Withdrawal Act Clause Number Nine? Look how it started out: ‘(1) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day.’ That kicked up such a kerfuffle that Theresa May, your lovely Prime Minister, felt the need to call for an election in order strengthen her hand in the Brexit game. So what happened? Her clever strategy backfired! It was a total laugh-fest – the Tory seats in Parliament went from 330 to 317, forcing her to form a minority coalition government with the Democratic Unionist Party. Well, color me bright orange! Was that little turn of events a real knee-slapper or what? But you English were just getting started – for an encore, the brilliant minds of Westminster came up with a revision of Clause 9 that read: ‘(1) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day, subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union; (2) Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act of Parliament (including modifying this Act); (3) But regulations under this section may not — (a) impose or increase taxation, (b) make retrospective provision, (c) create a relevant criminal offence, or (d) amend, repeal or revoke the Human Rights Act 1998 or any subordinate legislation made under it; and, (4) No regulations may be made under this section after exit day.’ Well, they certainly cleared things up, didn’t they?”
At that, Sir Percy cracked a wan smile. “Point taken.”
“But Theresa May didn’t like their work,” I continue, “so what did she do? She rejected the amendment, which forced a vote in Parliament, which the Tories lost, which, in turn, made Ms. May look rather like Mr. Bean trying to…”
“No, no, now wait a minute,” Sir Percy interrupted with a chuckle, “You can’t do that, Collins – how am I supposed to unsee that image of Mr. Bean in drag wearing a wig in Theresa May’s signature hair-helmet style, which you just created in my poor beleaguered mind?”
“Would you rather,” I inquired, “that I had compared Ms. May to Lucille Ball, stuck in another of the ridiculous predicaments of her own harebrained creation, for which she is so famous? Face it, my friend, whomever you prefer, the analogy to the comic buffoon of your choice is inescapable. Then, what happened next? Why, the House of Lords steps in, that’s what, and by the time they are done with it, Clause 9 of the European Union Withdrawal Act has turned into this masterpiece of English prose: ‘(1) Without prejudice to any other statutory provision relating to the withdrawal agreement, Her Majesty’s Government may conclude such an agreement only if a draft has been — (a) approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and (b) subject to the consideration of a motion in the House of Lords; (2) So far as practicable, a Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for the resolution provided for in subsection (1)(a) to be debated and voted on before the European Parliament has debated and voted on the draft withdrawal agreement; (3) Her Majesty’s Government may implement a withdrawal agreement only if Parliament has approved the withdrawal agreement and any transitional measures agreed within or alongside it by an Act of Parliament; (4) Subsection (5) of Clause 9 applies in each case that any of the conditions in subsections (6) to (8) is met; (5) Her Majesty’s Government must follow any direction in relation to the negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which has been — (a) approved by a resolution of the House of Commons, and (b) subject to the consideration of a motion in the House of Lords; (6) The condition in this subsection is that the House of Commons has not approved the resolution required under subsection (1)(a) by 30 November 2018 (7) The condition in this subsection is that the Act of Parliament required under subsection (3) has not received Royal Assent by 31 January 2019; (8) The condition in this subsection is that no withdrawal agreement has been reached between the United Kingdom and the European Union by 28 February 2019; (9) In this section, “withdrawal agreement” means an agreement (whether or not ratified) between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU and the framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union.’”
By this time, Sir Percy was doubled over laughing. “Stop, stop!” he begged, holding solar plexus with both hands, “it’s beginning to hurt!”
“Oh, well, then,” I japed, “Are you saying you don’t want me to read you the subsequent alternative proposed by the Right Honorable Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield…”
“No, no, that’s quite all right,” Sir Percy declared, still guffawing lightly.
“… or the Government’s proposed rebuttal version; or the Clause 9 ‘Plan B’ amendment, either?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Sir Percy vouched, regaining his composure, “you’ve made your point, Collins, when it comes to sheer political buffoonery, your Trump Administration might be a real challenge to surpass, with things like that border wall Mexico is supposed to pay for and claiming that global warming is a Chinese hoax, but we British have indeed managed to top them with Brexit.”
“But in all seriousness,” I observed, “at the end of the day, in the fullness of time, this May Government of yours could end up being a much bigger farce than the Trump Administration could ever hope to become. Ms May is certainly working on it, no doubt about that – thirty-six resignations from her Cabinet since 2017, and twenty-five of them because of disagreements with her over Brexit. It’s a good thing Fox News doesn’t cover British politics, because otherwise Trump would find out that there’s a woman who is outdoing him in the political circus business.”
“Okay, then” Sir Percy agreed with a sigh, “we British have proved ourselves superior in that respect, at least – our incumbent government is capable of acting more asinine than even yours.”
“Just manage to shut yours down for a month or so,” I suggested, “and you will have won the incompetent governance sweepstakes by a mile.”
“Now that, at least,” he sniffed with an ironic air, “is something to which we British can both aspire… and achieve.”
“Go for it,” I recommended. “There’s no reason we Americans should get all the big laughs.”
“But seriously, as you said,” Sir Percy remarked in a darker tone recalling his initial condition when our consultation began, “all kidding aside, this Brexit thing is an embarrassing, wince-inducing, grimace-provoking, stomach-churning, headache-spawning disaster of the first water. I’m afraid it will destroy the Tory party.”
“And there are plenty of people here in the US,” I informed him, “who are pretty sure the Trump Administration will destroy the Republican party. And not all of them are particularly upset about it, either.”
“Now that you mention it, there are other salient similarities,” Sir Percy noted, “both governments achieved victory due to proletarian and middle class anger, resentment and xenophobia. And both governments embarked on Quixotic missions to reject existing foreign trade structures and agreements.”
“And both countries are going to pay dearly for their government’s foreign trade shenanigans,” I predicted.
“No doubt about it,” Sir Percy concurred.
“But you know,” I opined, “something just occurred to me. This Brexit poppycock has gotten the Scots all stirred up again about leaving the United Kingdom.”
“True,” Sir Percy agreed, then looked at me expectantly. “And?”
“And what if Brexit turns out to be the pile of bricks that finally breaks the camel’s back?” I asked. “What if you can’t work out a border solution in Ireland, so Britain leaves the EU without a deal and, seeing that, Scotland definitely decides they want to stay in the EU instead of go down the drain with the UK?”
“God Almighty!” Sir Percy exclaimed as he leaned forward in his chair, sinking his face into his outstretched palms, “that never occurred to me! Oh, great – thanks, Collins, now I’ve got yet another reason to lie awake at night worrying.”
“Do you think,” I inquired, “that maybe Wales would want out, too?”
“Wales?” he looked up at me in horror. “You think they might?”
“Actually, considering how bad Brexit is proving to be,” I surmised, “it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Cornwall asking for independence and EU membership.”
Sir Percy blanched white as sheet. “That would leave nothing but…”
“England,” I interjected. “As it once was.”
“Yeah,” he murmured, “in the year 927 AD.”
“Back when Cornwall was referred to by its proper Romanized Gaelic name, Dumnonia,” I pointed out. “You think Cornwall will want to change its name back to that when it joins the United Nations?”
“Joins the United Nations?” Sir Percy slowly echoed.
“Sure,” I prognosticated, “they would join the UN and EU, just like Scotland and Wales. But you’re not entirely correct about England returning to its tenth-century territories, because you forgot, even after all that, you’d still have Northern Ireland.”
“Hell and damnation!” Sir Percy sarcastically barked. “Just what we want!”
“And I bet,” I snarked, “that’s what the Irish would say is just what you deserve. You know what?”
“What?” Sir Percy stared at me, obviously not having the foggiest concept of my next utterance.
“Forget about shutting down your government for a month,” I advised, “once you blow the deadline and exit the EU with no deal, Scotland will leave the UK for sure, and as idiotic as the US government has become since 2016, it’s done nothing that could match up to an incompetent, pathetic and ridiculous policy outcome like that. Yes, my friend, in my humble opinion, if Prime Minister May’s Government sees this Brexit weirdness through to the bitter end – and it certainly appears that’s what Britain is stumbling toward – then, short of starting World War III, there’s nothing the Trump Administration could possibly do to top what will amount to complete disintegration of the United Kingdom as we now know it.”
“So you are saying,” Sir Percy concluded, “that despite Donald Trump, Theresa May will be the biggest damn fool politician on the planet, and the United Kingdom will be the biggest world-wide laughingstock of the twenty-first century.”
“Pretty much,” I confirmed. “Thanks to Brexit, England should prepare itself to be the punchline for decades of jokes about moronic, ignorant, half-baked ideas and solutions.”
“In that case,” he proposed, “lets spend the rest of this consultation down at the Round Robin Bar working on developing our sense of humor.”
“Excellent idea,” I told him. “It seems that both of us are going to need a good one.”