I am so tired of red-faced, middle-aged men telling me Brexit will be fine. Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore, Daniel Hannan – they’ve all merged into one super-Brexiteer in my mind, possibly called Edmund, a pint surgically attached to one hand, a phone in the other, typing obscenities with pudgy fingers to tweet to Gina Miller.
Tim Martin, the chair of Wetherspoons, is another one of these Edmunds – a constant slight smug smirk on his forever pink-tinged face, which he probably thinks is vaguely alluring but really makes him look like Boss Baby with wind. Martin has announced, in a bluster of Brexit bravado, that Wetherspoons would no longer be selling various wines and beers from France, Italy and Germany, replacing them instead with drinks from the UK, Australia and South Africa. He spoke of the opportunity to “broaden our horizons” in the wake of Brexit, which is one of those beautifully patriotic and nonsensical sentences that makes you want to salute the flag, marry a British bulldog and kick an eastern European immigrant into the Thames.
I say nonsensical, of course, because there’s no other way to take this: our horizons are already sufficiently broad under the EU to allow us to get wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, that’s why Martin – alongside most supermarkets and restaurants – is importing these drinks now, and not when we leave the EU in 2019 (or 2020, or whenever the EU finally dislodges our fingernails and drags us screaming from the side of the European parliament). He seems to think that most Wetherspoons customers will be looking at the Australian wines with East-Germans-after-the-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall-style wonder, uttering things like “after years of living under the oppressive EU regime and their strict wine laws, I finally get to sample this £4.99 Jacob’s Creek. Thank you, Brexit, thank you.”
It’s not really about 'broadening our horizons'. It’s about irritating and infuriating the right kind of people
Of course it’s not really about “broadening our horizons”. It’s about irritating and infuriating the right kind of people. And in that sense, it’s worked, because upon seeing this headline, I screamed into my crocheted European Union pillow for a solid minute. But it’s also about showing his dedication to the God of Brexit. It’s about showing that Britain can produce enough booze for itself, which is a bit like rejecting something to drink because your mouth can create saliva. The implication – so achingly obvious that it pulses like a vein on Nigel Farage’s head while he’s trying to explain Russian money in the leave campaign – is that if you want any of that foreign stuff, you’re not really British.
A real Brit wouldn’t need French champagne, or German beer, or Polish meats – they’d be content with a bowl of gruel and a kick in the teeth as long as it was all made in Stoke. It’s another in a series of tedious cultural battles, another front in the never-ending war between remain and leave, between globalists and isolationists, between elites and people, between bridge-builders and wall-makers. It will not stop – not after we leave the EU, not after Donald Trump leaves office, not after the economy has crashed and burned and we’re all using fidget spinners as currency.
It’s not enough to say that the leaders of the “isolationist” movement, who claim to represent the Will of the People, are themselves complicit. No matter how many times you scream that one in 10 of Wetherspoons’ employees were European in 2016, no matter how many times you point out the Russian links back to Farage, back to Banks, no matter how many times you expose the amount of money that prominent Brexiteers are set to make out of betting against the UK, the narrative cannot be stopped: it’s the British people v the elites. And Martin has decreed that the British people don’t want fancy European food and wine – only elites do.
No country is an island, really. That’s why most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in continental Europe and not in a suburb of Birmingham. That’s why Premier League football players come from all around the world, and why everyone in Liverpool is secretly supporting Egypt at the World Cup. It’s how we have this weird, wonderful, stupid language in which I’m writing – an amalgamation of German, French, Latin and Scandinavian, meaning we probably sound like a confused papal tourist in an Ikea to every other country.
Imagine if we cut the rest of Europe out of our history – we’d have no castles, no delicious French cuisine, no Barbie Girl by Aqua. It’s a truly terrifying thought. Like it or not, we are a European nation, and artificially cutting them out of our lives for some misguided patriotism will only end in a lot of red faces down the line – either out of embarrassment, or because we’ll all have been weathered and browbeaten into hammy-faced Edmunds.
• Jack Bernhardt is a comedy writer