The UK is now isolated within the EU, and commentators are openly speaking about the possibility of the British leaving entirely. Most of the articles about the implications of the UK leaving the EU look at the big issues: the economic, political, and legal implications. But let’s imagine the more local consequences: the impact on Brussels. What would life in ‘Euro-Brussels’ be like without the Brits?
Close your eyes, if you will, and let me take you on a journey into the future….
The year is 2022, and President Sean Connery is negotiating the accession of newly-independent Scotland with EU President Elio di Ruppo….. woah, sorry, too far forwards. Let’s rewind a little.
The year is 2018, and the UK has finally left the EU after several years of argument and recrimination. The UK tried to argue that it was the 26 other Member States who should leave, since they were the ones who wanted to change things. In the end the 26 did leave, but took the Institutions with them, renaming the EU into EU United in the process. (For UK readers, I stole this scenario from the MK Dons / Wimbledon FC takeover, my apologies.)
With no right to benefit from the free movement of labour, the remaining Brussels Brits needed to apply for visas… or leave. The British Embassy helped the last wave to leave on 31 December 2015. Hundreds queued at UK Rep clutching their tattered copies of the Treaty of Lisbon. They waited to be flown out by the American helicopters which landed in the middle of rond-pont Schuman. Then they took off, making their way back to the UK (or US Air Force East Atlantic Base, as Britain has been formally re-named).
But these pro-EU Brits found no safe harbour for their unpopular views back home. Many were forced to travel onwards, a vast diaspora of displaced Europhiles, roaming the world in search of a new utopia. Many of them settled on a huge cruise ship, purchased from another organisation. Now they sail around the Caribbean listening to lectures on the life of Jacques Delors. The boat is commanded by Admiral Cathy Ashton, who thus became responsible for the EU’s first real flagship initiative.
For those who stayed in Brussels, at first their native English gave them a marginal advantage and helped their visa applications. But all this was to change in 2017, when English ceased to be one of the official languages of the EU. The new EU United rules made it clear that there would be only one official language per Member State.
Malta chose Maltese rather than English. But it was more of a surprise when the Irish chose to make Mandarin their official language. However, as Taoiseach Xiang explained, this requirement was included in the fine print of the agreement signed in 2016, when China bought the Irish Republic during the ‘Euro brocante’.
The British citizens working for the European Commission fared badly as well. Once the UK had left, they managed to negotiate a right to keep their contracts, but they were rapidly consigned to the lowliest, least desirable parts of the Commission. Philip Lowe was made Director General for DG Maintenance Services, staffed mainly by the remaining Brits, who finally got the chance to clean up the Commission. Room by room.
British MEPs found themselves unemployed of course. Sharon Bowles used her experience as Chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee to secure a senior position within EU United’s monetary transition team, responsible for conversion to the new Euro-Yuan currency in 2017.
Nigel Farrage, however, found that the UK Independence Party’s success in getting Britain out of Europe left him in charge of a campaign with nowhere to go. He moved to national politics, but soon pronounced that the UK was too federal and centralised, and that local independence was the answer. Following a split in the Kensington & Chelsea Independence Party, he joined the Independence for Kensington campaign, finally ending up leading the Kensington Avenue (north end) Independence Party in its attempts to declare independence from Kensington Avenue (south end).
Meanwhile, Andrew Duff put his constitutional expertise to use, as an advisor to the drafting group for the new Belgian constitution. After only three years’ pain-staking work, the joint Flemish / Walloon group has just agreed on what colour chairs they should sit on, and is now negotiating whether the chairs should be bought from Ikea Zaventem or Ikea Arlon.
Place Luxembourg has changed too. Without the clientele of the boozy Brits, the bars have suffered, and have been forced to diversify, selling ‘I love Europe so much… that I bought it!’ T-shirts to wealthy Arab visitors.
Place de Londres has been renamed Martyrs’ Square in honour of those European politicians who were forced to eat English food during previous UK Presidency dinners.
And the statute of Field Marshal Montgomery next to Montgomery roundabout has been replaced with a bust of Mario Draghi, honoured for negotiating the ground-breaking sponsorship deal for the Emirates European Central Bank. Of course, the roundabout itself (a British invention) was replaced by the re-introduction of the priorite a droit rule at every junction in Europe, a decision directly responsible for the economic stimulus which lifted the EU out of recession during the so-called ‘bodyshop boom’.
And what of the British lobbyists? Well, with their backs to the wall, they mounted their most intensive lobbying campaign ever. They convinced the European Parliament that since lobbyists are the only ones who actually pay it any attention, throwing the vast number of British consultants out would jeopardise the egos of hundreds of attention-starved MEPs. The Parliament promptly voted a budget-line for the Supporters of the UK Union of Parliamentary Professionals (SUK-UPP), which funds British lobbyists to lurk within the Parliament’s bars and cafes, ensuring that an MEP need never worry about buying their own drinks.
Oh – but I forgot about the British journalists. What happens to them in the future? Well, the same as all the other professional journalists to be honest. What? Did you seriously think that there would still be newspapers in 2018 ?