Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has volunteered to “teach the British people and others what leaving the EU means”.
Well, it’s never too late to learn, and I for one welcome the forthcoming lesson. Why, I’m even prepared to submit to corporal punishment should I prove to be an inept and indolent pupil.
Alas, it saddens me no end that not all English people are as eager to welcome foreigners trying to teach them how to live. Call it small-mindedness, call it jingoism, call it anything you like, but you can’t deny this pig-headed recalcitrance exists.
Not so long ago, for example, a sturdy woman speaking with a broad London accent gave her misbehaving nipper a light smack on the 22 Bus. An even sturdier woman speaking with a broad German accent took exception to that educational practice.
“In Germany,” she said, “ve don’t smack children”. “In England,” replied the Londoner, “we don’t gas Jews.”
One could surmise with chagrin that the child-abusing woman rather inclined towards Euroscepticism – to a point where she was prepared to reject valuable, if unsolicited, tuition. Gasping with horror, one may even guess which way she voted in the subsequent referendum.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the French in general and Mr Barnier in particular have a lot to teach England about running her political affairs. After all, who’s better qualified to be a marriage counsellor than someone who has been married many times? Experience brings knowledge, and knowledge must be passed on.
Now, since 1789, when the modern French state came into existence to the accompaniment of clanging guillotine blades, how many constitutions has England (or Britain, if you’d rather) had? A measly one.
Yes, the country has been stuck in the rut of the same political system for centuries. Is that any way of gaining experience, I ask you? The word stick-in-the-mud springs to mind.
By contrast, France’s mind has been wide-open to new experiences, new knowledge. During the same period, she has had five republics, all sorts of assemblies, directories, dictatorships, empires, monarchies and – I can see you turn green with envy – 17 (!) different constitutions.
If that doesn’t qualify France to teach us politics, I don’t know what possibly could. And when it comes to maintaining close ties with other continental powers, especially Germany, Mr Barnier’s country makes us look like ignorant novices dripping wet behind the ears.
Why, between 1940 and 1944 the two great EU powers, Germany and France, enjoyed such a close relationship that they managed to fine-tune all the requisite institutions and practices. Following a smooth post-war transition, that precious experience contributed to the subsequent unqualified success of the EU, based as it is on a similar type of fraternal cooperation.
While that went on, rather than taking the same finishing classes Britain was playing truant. She resisted attending school and even tossed bricks through the window. Bad girl, wasn’t she?
This kind of bloody-mindedness goes back a long way. For example, in the early nineteenth century, Napoleon, then the headmaster of the French School of Politics, tried to teach England how to stay in step with progress underpinned by the slogan Liberté, Fraternité, Aligoté.
That noble attempt was met with sheer ingratitude, presaging Britain’s current misbehaviour. While welcoming with unbridled enthusiasm the Aligoté part of the triad, the British rejected out of hand the other two parts and instead insisted that Napoleon himself attend the St Helena post-graduate academy.
Like all good schools these days, the EU charges tuition fees, which point Mr Barnier has stressed with a great deal of didactic emphasis. However, other good schools tend not to demand payment once the pupil has matriculated.
Yet the level of education provided by Mr Barnier’s school is of such sterling (euro?) quality that he insists – logically and justly – that Britain should continue to pay 14 per cent of the EU’s budget for the next three years upon graduation.
A reasonable demand if I’ve ever heard one, and yet Britain, this miserly nation de boutiquiers in Headmaster Napoleon’s definition, refuses to comply. Or rather pretends to – I’m sure that eventually Britain will see the light shining out of Mr Barnier’s… well, out of Mr Barnier and pony up.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the richly deserved punishment to be meted out by Mr Barnier, Britain would be well-advised to line her knickers with cardboard. Then she should bend over and brace herself for six of Mr Barnier’s best.
Alternatively, we could tell him to place his education into the same depository out of which his light shines. That’s the kind of ingrates the British are.