French beef with English sausages

Politics, global or domestic, is inherently dishonest. Whatever disagreements arise, they hardly ever have much to do with the face value of the argument.

It’s like a woman telling her husband she is dumping him because they are emotionally incompatible, whereas what she means is that he isn’t making enough money. Or a man ostensibly divorcing his wife because she has failed to match his spiritual growth, whereas in fact he wants to marry his plump secretary.

If the jilted spouse takes issue with the enunciated reason for the split, the two will be at cross purposes in the ensuing conversation. They’ll be talking about different things.

Thus it’s pointless to argue with the French about any customs checks on Lancashire sausages travelling to Northern Ireland or furniture going the other way.

Boris Johnson and his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab are wasting their breath trying to explain to Manny that Northern Ireland and England are two parts of the same country, the UK. Yes, they are separated by some water – but then Corsica and Réunion island are still parts of France even though they aren’t on the mainland.

Manny may not be a particularly educated chap, but his geography stretches this far. He knows all that. He also knows, and so does Boris, and so does Dominic, and Manny knows they know, that this isn’t what the real argument is about.

As far as Boris is concerned, Manny can choke on Lancashire sausages, and Manny wouldn’t mind seeing Boris shove them into the place that’s normally exit only. His beef isn’t with the sausages but with Brexit.

Manny is a fanatic of the EU, correctly sensing that it has been contrived specifically and exclusively for people like him. Hence he takes Brexit personally, knowing that it has put the EU – and hence his own political future – into jeopardy.

As far as Manny is concerned, Britain doing well outside the EU is a catastrophe on several levels. The most obvious problem is that other EU members may decide to follow suit, and that house can survive only so many departures.

The less obvious but more immediate problem is that Manny’s most dangerous domestic opposition comes from nationalist parties that are at best lukewarm on European federalism.

The poster adorning this article was produced by Action française, a political think-tank cum party that’s the nearest France gets to real conservatism. This royalist, Catholic child of Charles Maurras is too small and out of touch with modernity to present a serious threat, but it does state a Frexit position cogently.

Manny realises that Frexit is another way of saying Down with Macron!, which has been said with increasing frequency after his inept handling of the vaccination programme. That failure rankles, especially against the backdrop of Britain’s success, as spectacular as it was unlikely.

The threat comes from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national that’s neck and neck with Manny’s lot in the polls. Now, Mlle Le Pen refrains from calling for Frexit in so many words. But she cleverly uses anti-EU rhetoric to stoke up the nationalist feelings of her natural constituency.

Her message is simple and syllogistic. The EU is Manny, and Manny is the EU. The EU, acting through Manny, is killing Frenchmen by its vaccination fiasco. So even if you may not want to get rid of the EU yet, the next best thing is getting rid of Manny by voting for Marine.

If I advised Macron on political matters, I’d recommend that he put some serious distance between himself and the EU. He could easily match Le Pen’s diatribes without committing himself to any action and certainly not Frexit.

But that would be like expecting a candidate for Iran’s presidency to state publicly that there is a god other than Allah, and Mohammed isn’t his prophet. The words would just refuse to cross his lips, partly out of conviction, but mostly for fear of alienating his core support.

Manny will never stop trying to make Britain’s post-EU life as difficult as he can. If we were run by statesmen rather than spivocrats, we could easily pay him back in the same coin – for example, by promoting the anti-EU sentiments that are rife in some member countries, especially those in Eastern Europe. (I’d also suggest supporting Rassemblement national, but Putin is already doing that, and I wouldn’t want him for an ally.)

But that’s not going to happen, is it? Messrs Johnson and Raab will do some shadow boxing with Manny without ever landing a punch. They’ll argue some obscure legal points, go back and forth for a while before finally giving in.

Or they may not give in – ultimately it won’t matter. One way or the other, EU gauleiters, which is what all those national presidents and prime ministers are, will find a way to cut off their nose to spite Britain’s face. Such is the nature of that very beastly beast.

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