In his book "We Germans," journalist Matthias Matussek writes about an evening spent at the German Embassy in London. The ambassador was hosting the writer Antonia S. Byatt as his guest of honor and Matussek was on hand to make a toast to the author. In response, she surprised him by asking what he thought of the idea of a European constitution. Matussek answered by saying it's probably not such a bad idea if the European community of nations agrees on a few foundational principles.
Lady Byatt then said: "You know, we British don't need a constitution. We are the oldest democracy in the world." She paused briefly before continuing: "For young countries like you Germans, constitutions could very well be useful." It would be almost impossible, writes Matussek, to overstate the haughtiness and contemptuousness that dripped from her voice. "Essentially, she was saying," he writes, "you are barbarians, you have only recently put down your cudgels. You need the leash."
Such are the British, and we love them for it. They are never short of an answer and constantly ready to put someone in their place. The problem, though, is that if you act like you are the center of the world, you should actually be the center, or something close to it. As things currently stand, though, the British soon won't even be within shouting distance of the center of Europe.
The United Kingdom is currently demonstrating how a country can make a fool of itself before the eyes of the entire world. What was once the most powerful empire on earth is now a country that can't even find its way to the door without tripping over its own feet.
It has now been 28 months since the British voted to pull out of the European Union. Unfortunately, they haven't taken a single step further since then.
Nothing But Sympathy
When Theresa May shows up in Brussels with yet another Brexit-related proposal, you can be sure that just one day later, it will no longer be worth the paper it is printed on. She either presents ideas that Brussels has long since rejected or her plans have already been chucked in the round file by her own party. Or Boris Johnson has torn her apart in his column in the Telegraph.
Until recently, I felt nothing but sympathy when I would see the British prime minister wander in front of the camera at EU summits, with her crooked smile and kooky offers. Lately, though, I have been catching myself thinking: "Go with God. But go!"
No deal is better than a bad deal? If the British are convinced of that, then it must be true. A hard Brexit would also cost us a fair bit, there is no question. But it is nothing compared to what is awaiting the British.
There has been no shortage of articles about what the golden future will look like that London has promised British citizens. First, the trucks will back up all the way to Wales because the borders are back. Then the petrol stations will run out of petrol and there will be a scarcity of drugs in the hospitals. Meanwhile, once all the Polish plumbers have gone back home, there will nobody to call when the toilet clogs up.
They'll be left in their water-damaged homes with no heating oil and no aspirin -- and their Russian neighbors will be in extremely bad moods. After all, they have invested excessive amounts of money in the British real estate market and will be incensed when returns on those investments evaporate. We Germans know all too well how uncomfortable it can be to live with angry Russians. Drug shortages are nothing by comparison!
Connection to Reality
Almost everyone who has a say in Brexit belongs to the British establishment, meaning they went to an outrageously expensive private school and completed their studies at Cambridge or Oxford. In this regard, too, we have been enlightened. What in the name of God do they learn there? It certainly can't be skills that would prepare them for the real world. Or would you trust a lawyer who regularly shows up to negotiations so completely unprepared that they have to be broken off again after just a few minutes?
You only have to listen in to any randomly chosen snippet of a Theresa May speech or interview and you will quickly realize that connection to reality is not a prerequisite for becoming prime minister.
Journalist: "If we leave the EU without a deal, doesn't there have to be a hard border in Ireland?"
May: "We've been very clear that we do not want to see a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."
Journalist: "But if we leave without a deal, that does mean a hard border, doesn't it?"
May: "We are working to make sure that we leave with a good deal."
Journalist: "But if we leave without a deal, there will be a border in Ireland, won't there?"
May: "If we leave with no deal, we as the UK government are still committed to doing everything we can to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."
Journalist: "But you'll inevitably fail, because according to World Trade Organization rules, there has to be a border. Shouldn't you level with people and explain that?"
May: "As the UK government, we remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."
And on and on. The disadvantage of being intelligent is that it hurts to watch someone act dumb. Simplemindedness protects against this pain, which is why in politics, it is often better to be dumb than intelligent.
We don't want to be unfair. We have the British to thank for afternoon tea, Monty Python and the Beatles, which is more than many countries have managed to produce in their history. Plus, they have the queen, which, for someone like myself, who tends toward monarchism, is a reason to admire the UK. It is also worth noting that at a certain point in every country's history, decay becomes unavoidable. Some do so slowly, others more rapidly.
The fact that the British are doing so rather quickly at the moment could have something to do with the fact that it is an island nation. I have never really understood how people could convince themselves that keeping entirely to themselves is advantageous. A look across the English Channel provides a telling example of what can go wrong.