Toby Neal: A warm welcome from our special place in hell

So this is what a special place in hell feels like.

Members of the Celtic Passion Pipe Band playing in Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, which is lit up in red, white and blue during a celebration and farewell on the eve of the UK leaving the European Union
Members of the Celtic Passion Pipe Band playing in Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium, which is lit up in red, white and blue during a celebration and farewell on the eve of the UK leaving the European Union

Welcome to the new, non-EU, Britain.

Even as the echoes fade of the celebratory bongs of Big Ben, the job losses have already started.

Okay, I imagined those bongs, but I haven't imagined the job losses, or rather job loss. And how ironic that the first in the queue is one Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, who has got the boot as the department is wound up.

He will be followed by hundreds of thousands of others, if the predictions prove correct.

Whether you supported Remain or Leave, you surely can't help but be curious about whether all those dire consequences we were told would flow from Brexit will actually now come to pass.

For our country and our people, we must hope that they don't. There again, the credibility of a whole army of politicians, economists, commentators, and assorted experts who have been prophets of doom now depends on Britain having a tough time.

If they are shown to be right in their gloomy forecasts, they will be able to massage their comfort grief by saying "we told you so."

January 31, 2020, is a date to go down in history, but already the most significant thing has happened on the Brexit front since the June 2016 referendum.

Unruly

It is that Remainers have accepted that they have lost.

There may be a few who fight on, like some Japanese soldiers stranded in the jungle continued to do long after the war. But if somebody like Michael Heseltine accepts the matter has been settled by a Remain defeat, then has-been or not, it's got to be over, hasn't it?

Anna Soubry (remember her?), John Bercow, Dominic Grieve, and their like have become a new generation of has-beens.

There is an argument that could be made that we are not actually leaving the European Union, as we have never wholeheartedly been a part of it in the first place. Even as an insider, we were an outsider.

Britain has been an unruly and disruptive club member, seeking opt-outs, rebates, and institutional reforms, while not signing up to the ideological pan-European dreams.

Our status as a one-nation awkward squad didn't start, as you might assume, with Mrs Thatcher. It goes back further than that. During 1970s negotiations, one Common Market figure complained of the eurosceptic (not a term current at the time) British agriculture minister, Labour's John Silkin: "He's so unpredictable. When he says no, he means no."

There is a lot to be said for the EU as a trading cartel, and if there wasn't it would be pretty damning, as its raison d'etre is based on trade, as evidenced by those former names, the Common Market, the European Economic Community, and all that.

But with its combination of slow decision-making and plodding bureaucracy with the flexibility of a laden supertanker, the EU is not built for nimble footwork at times of crisis.

What will the EU miss about Britain? If you think it's the money, bear in mind it will have £39 billion to be getting along with.

What I shall miss about Britain being out of the EU is that there will be less opportunity to be entertainingly insulted to our face.

Tone

Admittedly the coming trade talks might prove me wrong, especially as Leo Varadkar has done some groundwork by saying Britain must “come to terms with the fact it’s now a small country.”

Don't worry, I've looked at my map and it's still the same size.

There have been other highlights, like Michel Barnier's "Britain must be taught a lesson." That came at the start of the negotiations, and set the whole tone.

Then there was "Sorry, no cherries." This was Donald Tusk's mocking of Theresa May, the Prime Minister who saw her role as being humiliated for Britain. The EU Council President posted a picture on social media of himself presenting her with cakes. His comment was a snide reference to UK "cherrypicking" in the negotiations.

Boris got some too, like on that occasion a Luxembourg premier nobody had ever heard of set up a joint outdoor press conference in front of a placard-waving audience of loudly chanting anti-Brexit protesters, and then when Boris took fright and turned tail, grandstanded at the microphone berating Britain's policy and mocking the empty British place on the platform.

I'm not pretending for a moment that we haven't got form in the insults department. Years ago The Sun invited its readers to gather at noon at designated locations, turn towards Brussels, and say Up Yours Delors! while giving the V-sign.

Jacques Delors was the French president of the European Commission at the time.

One of those designated locations was the middle of the Iron Bridge and, curious to assess the popular response, I spied at a distance to see if anybody complied with Kelvin MacKenzie's wheeze.

They didn't.

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