Bri­tain has never looked so fool­ish in the world’s eyes

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion - Jan Fleis­chhauer

Ihave al­ways ad­mired the Bri­tish. We owe them af­ter­noon tea and Monty Python. This is more than many na­tions have achieved in their his­tory. I was also one of the few colum­nists in Ger­many who found it ridicu­lous to be an­gry at our Bri­tish neigh­bours af­ter they de­cided to leave the Euro­pean club they had once helped to make great. I felt sorry when­ever I saw the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter stum­ble through a Euro­pean sum­mit, with her crooked smile and her even more crooked of­fers. Right now, though, I’m feel­ing less sym­pa­thetic. In fact, I have been catch­ing my­self think­ing: “Go with God. But go!” Maybe this week could be the week things be­come clear. But who would bet on it?

The UK is mak­ing a spec­tac­u­lar demon­stra­tion of how to make a fool of your­self with the en­tire world look­ing on. What was once the most pow­er­ful em­pire on Earth can’t even find its way to the door with­out trip­ping over its own feet. When Theresa May ar­rives in Brus­sels with yet an­other pro­posal, you can be sure it won’t be worth the pa­per it’s writ­ten 24 hours later. She ei­ther presents ideas that Brus­sels has long ago re­jected, her plans have been re­jected by her own party, or Boris John­son tears them to pieces in his news­pa­per col­umn.

No deal is bet­ter than a bad deal? If you are con­vinced of this: go ahead. A hard Brexit will cost the rest of us a lot – there’s no ques­tion about that – but it is noth­ing com­pared to what is await­ing you Bri­tons.

Al­most ev­ery­one who has had a say in this ad­ven­ture seems to be­long to the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment, mean­ing they went to an out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive pri­vate school and com­pleted their stud­ies at Cam­bridge or Ox­ford. What in the name of God do they teach them? It cer­tainly can’t be skills that pre­pare them for the real world. Wher­ever you look, you see buf­foons. Of John­son you can at least say the man knows some­thing about in­trigue. He’s also a bril­liant writer, which nat­u­rally en­dears him to a colum­nist such as me. But, hand on heart, what does it tell us about a coun­try when a man like John­son is re­garded as one of the clear­est-think­ing minds in the cir­cle of power?

Two weeks ago May had a chance to present her ideas for an or­derly exit to the other 27 EU heads. She left them con­fused, and try­ing to fig­ure out the mean­ing of her pre­sen­ta­tion over din­ner. An­gela Merkel in­di­cated that she didn’t re­ally un­der­stand what May had said, but that she would ask the Brexit chief ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier to ex­plain it to her. I didn’t make that up; Bloomberg re­ported it.

The dis­ad­van­tage of be­ing in­tel­li­gent is that it hurts when you act stupid. The fool doesn’t feel this pain be­cause they don’t have to pre­tend. For a na­tion, the prob­lem be­gins when the level of stu­pid­ity at the top is un­usu­ally high, be­cause the smarter peo­ple have thrown in the towel. This is gen­er­ally the point at which de­cline be­comes in­evitable.

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