FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - Cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

HER face had that jut­ted chin set of right­eous­ness; her head that an­gle of cocky ar­ro­gance. The man near her had sim­i­lar body lan­guage but used his words re­lent­lessly to bat­ter any op­po­si­tion. Both, and oth­ers who came for­ward, re­peated as if a mantra: “It’s the will of the peo­ple. Right? The ma­jor­ity.” Not just re­peated, but spat it out with the bel­liger­ent stance of leery street­corner fight­ers look­ing down on the van­quished. When an ar­tic­u­late Pol­ish woman among them tried to ex­plain how un­wel­come and lost she felt, they jeered and booed her.

Watch­ing the edi­tion of Ques­tion Time broad­cast from Hartle­pool and the of­ten mo­ronic ig­no­rance on dis­play, I found my­self sink­ing fur­ther into my seat in south-west France. Al­though I knew no French peo­ple in my area would be wit­ness­ing this Brexit dis­cus­sion, I felt shame and em­bar­rass­ment that, by speak­ing English, I might be iden­ti­fied with this gath­ered mob.

I also felt a sur­pris­ingly jar­ring sense of shock at see­ing the real face of the mixed move­ment for Brexit en masse; push­ing for­ward the de­mand for some myth­i­cal Enger­land.

It is not a pretty face. Wreathed in anger, yet glo­ry­ing in the be­lief that the peo­ple have some­how got one over on the “elite” and the “snobs”, it is mind­less in its per­ceived new power. And fright­en­ing in its lack of aware­ness that, far from grasp­ing power, it is run­ning head­long into its own eco­nomic de­struc­tion.

If feel­ing kind, one can for­give those poor saps who, by virtue of their lim­ited cir­cum­stances, have noth­ing to lose.

One can never, ever for­give the cyn­i­cal, men­da­cious, self-cen­tred ma­noeu­vrings of those pro­fes­sion­als, the politi­cians, who led them up and over the hill to a promised land, know­ing it was a mi­rage.

Per­haps one day, look­ing back, I will say that this was the mo­ment I knew that if I ever re­turned to Eng­land, not Scotland, it would be to a land as for­eign as France once was to me. But a land far less cul­tured. Or per­haps the mo­ment I knew I could never re­turn to a peo­ple who have re­treated to a xeno­pho­bic, tiny cor­ner of the world while in their heads be­liev­ing they are still the su­pe­rior race and Bri­tan­nia rules the waves.

In­creas­ingly I feel I am sit­ting, eye pressed to the tele­scope, look­ing to­wards a coun­try that has lost all hon­our, all grace, all com­pas­sion, all em­pa­thy and all dig­nity. That is cer­tainly the view of the French press. The core of all is a col­lec­tive be­wil­der­ment that a coun­try could choose its own de­struc­tion.

They pro­duce the fig­ures that have been, and are, dis­missed as scare­mon­ger­ing, and come to the same con­clu­sion as those Re­main­ers now dis­missed as Re­moan­ers: dis­as­ter looms.

Ear­lier in the day, I was em­bar­rassed too when Theresa May ar­rived in Brussels for the EU sum­mit to be given po­lite but short shrift from the 27 other mem­ber na­tions. She doesn’t get it, does she? In­sert­ing her­self into the front line for the group photo, it’s plain she doesn’t feel the ice from those who are of­fer­ing her hard ne­go­ti­a­tions for hard Brexit.

No but, no but, no … We haven’t trig­gered Ar­ti­cle 50 yet, she cries as she shuf­fles her back­side into the line-up. Oh, we will, of course, but we want to play in the first team un­til then. It’s our right, you know.

Mean­while at the Na­tional As­sem­bly in Paris, at a round ta­ble dis­cus­sion be­tween French and Bri­tish, it was stated that Brexit would be “cat­a­clysmic” for Bri­tons in France un­less re­cip­ro­cal health and tax agree­ments were hon­oured dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. Well, it didn’t take a ge­nius to work that out be­fore the ref­er­en­dum.

And it doesn’t take a ge­nius to un­der­stand that there are far more Bri­tish re­tirees in France than there are French in the UK. What bit of “if you want out, you’re out” don’t the Leavers un­der­stand? Europe is not a pick-and-mix counter for the prime min­is­ter to go along with her bas­ket be­fore check­ing out. “I’ll take that, that, but no thank you, not that.”

Of course France is not ex­empt from racists, xeno­phobes and small­minded in­di­vid­u­als. There are as many Lit­tle French­men as there are Lit­tle Eng­lan­ders and the Front Na­tional, re­vamped as they may be, are the party of choice for them. It is pretty cer­tain Marine Le Pen will get to the fi­nal round of the up­com­ing elec­tions and her de­sire is to hold her own Brexit.

Sit­ting here with my tele­scope to the UK and my ear to France, how­ever, I have hope.

Hope that those in the Euro­pean Union, par­tic­u­larly in France, see the quag­mire the UK is in fol­low­ing its ref­er­en­dum.

See mar­kets, pounds and eu­ros crash and tum­ble and think: “Mmm, maybe not such a good idea.”

In the end, dear Hartle­pool Ques­tion Time au­di­ence, it’s not about “we are the peo­ple”, it’s about ris­ing food costs, dearer hol­i­days, dearer fuel and heat­ing.

Well, it’s too late per­haps for you. Hope­fully not for France.

Frankly, I earn in one and live in the other, so I’m bug­gered ei­ther way.

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