Forget cricket, rugby, the weather and royal babies; there is only one topic of conversation in the UK these days – Brexit.
With the March deadline looming, the prospect of Britain crashing out of the European Union without an agreement of any kind is looking more and more likely, giving rise to a sense of panic in some quarters, a sense of resignation in others and a sense of humour pretty much everywhere else.
As to be expected, mainstream and social media are awash with cartoons, quips and political commentary, some of it wry, some of it desperate, most of it very funny.
Satirical magazine Private Eye is feasting on what it sees as an imminent debacle, with edition after spoofy edition sending up the Tories trying to steer the process through the muddy European waters.
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An October cover shows a vehicle up to its windows in the sea, apparently having plunged off a cliff. The headline reads: “TORIES UNVEIL NEW BREXIT VISION”. A bubble conversation coming from the ill-fated, but not completely submerged, vehicle reads “It’s time to stress the positives.”
Another cover shows a photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg a hardline Brexit-backing Tory MP decked out in a three-piece suit and sporting a top hat, with a speech bubble saying: “We must throw off the shackles of the EU and trade freely again with Persia, Mesopotamia and Cathay.”
The Economist, meanwhile, published a cartoon entitled “Britain faces up to leaving the EU”. The drawing shows scores of people on the beach below the white cliffs of Dover, all with their heads buried in the sand.
Prime Minister Theresa May, as to be expected, is the butt of many jokes, with cartoonists depicting her as a hag wearing faux leopard skin high-heeled shoes either urging Britons to jump off a cliff, or steering a London bus off a bridge, or herself jumping out of an EU jetliner wearing a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack.
Not to be outdone by the humouristic fringe, London’s dog lovers got in on the act, staging a “wooferendum” to highlight the growing demand for a second referendum which anti-Brexiteers are confident will overturn the original vote to leave the EU.
Dogs of all shapes, stripes and sizes were brought by their owners to a London square with signs around their necks reading, for example, “Brexit is a dog’s dinner”, and “Brexit is barking mad”.
Most popular spot for the dogs was a “pee station” where the canines could happily pee on placards bearing the images of Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign minister and a leading voice for the “leave” vote, and Nigel Farage, another hardliner and vice-chairman of the pro-Brexit organisation “Leave Means Leave.”
Ordinary citizens too are loudly having their say, at dinner parties, in the pubs, at social gatherings and even while minding the kids in a playpark. With the “leaves’” notching up 51.9 percent of the vote and the ‘remains” 48.1 percent, public opinion is divided almost down the middle. Fertile ground for heated arguments and in some cases, fierce fisticuffs.
“Bollocks to Brexit” signs, meanwhile, are to be seen everywhere, most visibly a huge one above the London offices of Pimlico Plumbers, whose owner millionaire Charlie Mullins says he is prepared to go to jail rather than remove it as per the orders of the Lambeth Council, which says it is illegal because he didn’t get planning permission.
Mullins, a strident advocate for a second referendum, cites freedom of speech and a 1977 court case involving a record released by Punk group the Sex Pistols entitled “Never Mind The Bollocks” for his determination not to remove the sign.
In the obscenity case brought against the band, their lawyer successfully argued that the term “bollocks” dates back to Medieval times when it was used as a colloquialism for “nonsense”.
But with time running out the mood is becoming darker and darker.
A letter writer to the Telegraph newspaper, one Harry Gorst of Torquay, sums up the desperation.
“Telling everyone to hold their nerve through the later stages of Brexit,” he writes, “is the same as telling a drowning man that everything will be fine if he holds his breath.”
The main stumbling block at this late stage of negotiations is the question of the Irish border. Put simply, Theresa May wants out of the EU but wants to stay in the bloc’s customs union. The EU says that in this case there has to be a “hard” border between the Republic of Ireland, which will stay in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which will not.
Problem is, the Good Fridayagreement that ended years of sectarian strife between Catholics and Protestants in the North was only concluded on the understanding that the border would be “soft” (ie invisible).
Analysts fear that the re-establishment of a “hard” border would spark fresh conflict in Northern Ireland. Unless the border issue is resolved, Britain will be faced with a chaotic “no deal” Brexit.
In this case, warns ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, unemployment in the UK will almost double, the British pound will plummet and house prices will slump.
But even if S&P prediction proves correct, Britons being Britons will no doubt still find plenty to poke fun and laugh about. One of their most loveable traits is that no matter how dire the situation, someone will always lighten the mood by cracking a joke.
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