“The problem with Brexit,” as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “is eventually you run out of commemorative stamps and blue passports and royal yachts and imperial pints of champagne and 25 mile long bridges to France right on top of the world’s busiest shipping lane.”
Ah! What’s that? Yep, you’re right. She never said it. I’ve been on the googles, and yes, you’re quite correct to point out these words have been falsely attributed to her over the years.
I do however, have the real quote here, in full, as broadcast on the This Week programme on 5 February 1976:
“The problem with Boris Johnson,” she told Thames Television’s Llew Gardner, “is eventually you run out of island airports and garden bridges and windowless sauna buses and cable cars to nowhere and big red crashed rollercoaster sculptures and unusable water cannon and 25 mile long bridges to France right on top of the world’s busiest shipping lane.”
So it’s good to clear that one up once and for all.
It is not immediately clear by what point the Bridge to France definitely won't happen, or how much public money will be spent on making sure it is never built.
But already leading pointless gesturologists are talking about it as the world’s first “mega-pointless-gesture”.
“These are extraordinary times for pointless gestures,” Sir Edward Stone, head of the Institute for Pointless Gesturology told Sky News this morning. “But even so, this is what we describe as a 1 in 10,000 year gesture. We’ve been seeing a lot of activity on the Boris front going back almost a decade, and recently even more on the Brexit front, but we’ve never seen them come together like this.”
And it came with a grave warning.
“The worry is that the Bridge to France is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sir Ed. “All our data indicates what’s triggering these gestures are reminders from leading figures in Europe that you can’t have access to the single market without making payments into the EU budget and without accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
“The best hope for a slowing of activity is an indication that somebody in the UK Government is listening but we have detected no sign of that yet.”
Sir Ed also drew attention to the narrowing of what the IPG calls the “attention window”, the period of time between the reminder trigger and the next pointless gesture.
“When the attention window starts narrowing like this, that’s when the pointless gestures become much larger in scale. On this occasion, it was only a few hours between President Macron stating, yet again, that the UK’s negotiating position is impossible and the first signs of the Bridge to France.
“Only a few weeks ago, this was the kind of thing that might trigger nothing more significant than a deranged post on John Redwood’s blog about Little Red, White and Blue Riding Hood, but once you’re at Bridge to France level there’s no going back.”
Sir Ed would not comment on speculation that, with no shift in position by March 2019, the country could return to direct rule from Buckingham Palace, but added: “What we’ve not seen yet is any of these mega gestures actually becoming reality.
“What happens if you threaten to cover Gibraltar in Marmite and make Spain eat it? The real danger is you have to go through with it.”