‘Who is this Lord Howard? Someone from Thatcher’s time,’ said my friend Mario. ‘Declare war on Spain? What nonsense.’
Beside him a Daily Mail (Spanish edition) headline screamed about an Armada being sent to defend Gibraltar (Jebel-al-Tariq). Mario lived for many years in London and is well aware of some of the more jingoistic elements of the British press and, indeed, British society. Despite evidence to the contrary he thinks Britain is a civilised place and likes Britain and the British. Michael Howard was, of course, the Minister with ‘something of the night about him’º.
I don’t have the internet in Jerez (a deliberate policy) so had missed whatever gave rise to that embarrassing piece of nonsense. Had the Mail finally succumbed to o’er-weaning ambition and started to believe its own propaganda as self-proclaimed arbiter of the nation’s fate? Famously The Sun claimed to have won an election for the Tories, is the Mail beginning to think it ‘won’ the referendum? There seems less and less to distinguish between those two publications, especially now that the wizards of Wapping have finally accepted that acreage of nude female flesh isn’t acceptable beneath the very ‘top shelf’.
Contrast this strident hysteria with a report on Gibraltar in the Diario de Jerez, a local daily newspaper in a town not so far away from the enclave in question. The writer links the bombast to recent pronouncements from Madrid that Spain is not unhappy about an independent Scotland joining the EU, a view apparently shared by Brussels. Politicians in the UK seemed to have assumed that Spain, with its Catalonian and Basque independence movements, would object.
His hypothesis is that this estrepito (sound and fury signifying nothing) is a smokescreen, as more and more of Britain, politicians as well as voters, realise what a massive error Brexit is. The break-up of the UK as it has been since 1601, the possible regression in the relationship with Ireland, Spain re-enforcing its claim to Gibraltar, all of this was predicted but not believed. So, to great derision, was the increased likelihood of war in Europe.
Continental Europeans, whose countries were battlegrounds for centuries, always cite ensuring peace as the overwhelming benefit of the EU. It was with this very aim in mind that the earliest version of it was created, as part of the post-WWII settlement. This is a point not really appreciated by the British, whose own island hasn’t been invaded since 1066. The awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Peace to the EU was met with incomprehension in the UK ( and ridicule in organs like the Mail ). It is ironic that it is a Brexiter who starts making bellicose noises, but then war has often been used as a distraction.
Now Article 50 has been triggered and negotiations to leave are, theoretically, underway ( though I doubt much will be really achieved until after the French and German elections later this year ) hard facts are beginning to make themselves felt. When even David Davis, Minister for Brexit admits that trading under WTO rules would be costly for Britain ( Commons Foreign Affairs Committee ), that immigration will probably rise (BBC Question Time) and it becomes apparent that the break-up of the UK looks much more likely ( Nicola Sturgeon gambling her own and her party’s future on the Scots changing their minds ) reality has begun to bite.
The Jerezano editorial writer references The Songs of Ossian, a highly influential eighteenth century publication, supposedly the work of an ancient poet, the gaelic Homer, though published by one John Macpherson. The Songs had many fans, (see Ingres’ painting right) but it also attracted criticism, most notably from Dr Johnson, who, when asked if he believed that any man could write such poetry, famously replied ‘Yes. Many men. Many women. And many children’. He regarded Ossian as a fake and Macpherson as a mountebank.
Current opinion is that ‘Ossian’ didn’t exist and, though Macpherson did indeed collect genuine gaelic folk tales the Songs are as much by him as by unknown earlier authors. The inference in the editorial is that Brexit will, likewise, come to be seen for what it is, in the main, a fraud perpetrated on the British public.
‘Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day… Good things of day begin to droop and drowse; Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse‘. Is it too late for light to begin to dawn?
ºFamously, said by Claire Widdecombe, fellow Tory Minister.