I’ve been kicking myself lately for not putting 100 euros on Mr Johnson for PM all those years ago instead of just going on about it. I could have got very good odds. Anyway, no need to worry, as the latest twist in the referendum saga puts BJ out of the running. So my new prediction, hotly disputed by most who share my amazement that he’s given up without a fight after coming so close to the big prize, is that he will definitely be in the running next time – as long as next time is far enough away for the fury at his antics has subsided. Meanwhile, I’m apologising to my neighbours for being British. One of them took me a bit too seriously today, insisting with genuine warmth that there was always a place for the British in Belgium, after what we did for this country in time of war.
One of the least offensive things I’ve heard about Boris Johnson from Remainers is that he is living proof that you can fool 51.9% of the people all of the time. Today this former Brussels journalist and colleague looks set to go further and fulfil my 12-year old prediction that he would one day become prime minister.
I only half meant it back then, but he clearly did represent that point where celebrity and politics meet. One day, after seeing my old chum delighting a television chat show audience for the umpteenth time, I opined that his burgeoning political career would flourish on the back of support garnered almost entirely by stealth from those who knew him best as a figure of fun.
Today Boris is on telly in front of a microphone announcing that “Project Fear”, allegedly run by the Remain campaign is over, and that everything is fine. I immediately felt more confident about everything, even though his remarks immediately followed a news bulletin announcing that the pound had hit a 31-year low.
Now that’s what you call the Johnson magic.
Amidst the usual traffic and security chaos which plagues the EU quarter of Brussels whenever Europe’s leaders come to town, a man in a smart suit is striding purposefully in the general direction of the summit venue, clutching his young son’s hand.
This man is an ardent federalist and forensic expert on all matters Union. This man’s bookshelves are lined with copies of the EU’s “Official Journal”, known as the “OJ”. This man has worked for decades to support the pillars of the European project. He is known in some quarters as “OJ Samson.”
And now, reeling from the referendum result, this man is leading his son, the generation most affected by the folly of the Brexiteers, to join a protest rally being staged by members of the expatriate British community of Brussels, to express their outrage at the turn of events.
But there is a problem.
As usual at summit time, all main routes through the EU quarter are sealed off to traffic and people, except for those with summit badges. It makes life a nightmare for normal folk trying to go about their business. In fact, I’m amazed that the Bruxelloise haven’t risen up long ago against the “elites” whose EU shenanigans regularly disrupt their city.
Luckily on this occasion I am on hand to warn this man that he is about to be rebuffed and turned back by police if he tries to continue on his path towards his demonstration somewhere on the edge of Parc Cinquantenaire. He will have to change course and walk along three sides of a square to arrive at his rendezvous, which is about 60 metres away in a straight line.
This news is clearly the last straw. Pausing only to mutter very rude things about unelected, elitist interfering European policeman, he grabs his offspring and storms back home, vowing to protest against Brexit another day, when the fat cats of Europe in their bloody limousines have buggered off and left us in peace to carry on building a federal superstate.
The man who popularised the phrase “information overload” has died, although presumably not from an overdose of Brexit bollockology. In 1970, in his best-selling book “Future Shock”, Alvin Toffler presciently forecast massive cultural, political and economic upheaval in the developed world because of the “roaring current of change” driven by mass communications and computers.
He was amazingly accurate, not least in warning that people and institutions that fail to keep pace with change face ruin. But his book was not immediately praised.
Time magazine’s reviewer declared: “Toffler’s redundant delivery and overheated prose turned kernels of truth into puffed generalities.” Something, you could say all these years later, precisely sums up the fiasco of the Brexit debate.
I was right about the factmongering: the local DIY store (Brico) has been panicked by Brexit into slashing the price of a three-pack of plastic wall-mounted pictures depicting glorious Blighty in all its Union-Jacked pomp.
There are pix of a red Mini (the proper, original, pre-German bloated model; a London underground train station logo adorned with a royal crown, and a Union-jacked Brit-pop guitar alongside the words “London Calling”.
Obviously anxious to offload this toxic stock before it becomes illegal to buy any UK tourist tat on the continent, the price has plummeted from 15 euros 99 cents to just five euros! All we need now is for the credit ratings agencies to downgrade this tat to “junk” status and Brico won’t be able to give it away.
This is exactly the kind of thing that Chancellor George Osborne warned would happen and the eurosceptics chose to ignore him.
I was just nipping into my regular local restaurant today after another hectic round of post-Brexit hugs of commiseration from a bunch of NOOMS (Nationals Of Other Member States) when head waiter Simone, as cheery a dining host as you could wish for, intercepted me at the door and cheerily asked if he could possibly see my passport. Very witty.
There will be much more of this sort of thing in the days and weeks ahead and, just to prove the accuracy of this prediction, I was stopped in the street later by a Finnish photographer of my acquaintance who grinned and demanded to see my visa.
These are the unintended consequences of Brexit that I was due to impart to listeners to BBC Radio Oxford, but when I put the headphones on in the studio there was, literally, radio silence due to a fire alarm.
No matter, I made sure listeners to BBC Radio Manchester were made aware of my concerns that the alleged scaremongering by the Remain camp about the economic consequences of Brexit would turn out to be factmongering.
Let the record showed that June 24, 2016, was “Hug a Brit” day at EU Commission headquarters here in Brussels.
Yes, the day that Brexit broke out, and while the referendum shock waves were still calculating how much of their pent-up fury to unleash, eurocrats of a continental bent spontaneously copied the unofficial and ultimately unsuccessful “Remain” campaign strategy which called upon citizens of other EU member states to shower Britons with love to convince them to vote to stay.
We were waiting for jolly Jean-Claude Juncker – the man David Cameron tried to block from becoming Commission President. Oh folly!
The previous night some of us had gathered at a local hostelry for a “Last Night of the Poms” social event to watch the results come in, fairly confident that the Poms were nowhere near running out of EU nights. Oh folly two!
And now we British journalists were being hugged and squeezed by what Brexiteers call faceless eurocrats, who had clearing taken time off from interfering in every nook and cranny of my daily life to make us all feel better.
Being very reserved types, we British of course showed little inclination to implement a reciprocal “Hug a Eurocrat” day, in case the gesture compromised our already shaky credentials for impartial engagement with “Brussels”.
And Jolly Jean-Claude, normally a tactile sort, didn’t look ready to hug any Brits when he walked into the room. He looked like he’d like to slap a few round the chops though.
He opened his remarks with a terse “Ladies and gentlemen and, in some cases, friends”…,
So here it began, on Brexit Day One, with JJC delivering a no-nonsense statement agreed with three other EU presidents – Donald Tusk of the European Council, Martin Schulz of the European Parliament and Mark Rutte, holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. And yes, it does have to be this complicated, as befitting a family of 28, soon to be 27, Member States.
Or maybe not so soon: early signs are that Downing Street – whoever that means in the months to come - is in no hurry to activate the “Article 50” EU departure plan which is the next step in the Brexit process of disentanglement.
JJC has other ideas. He said he expected the UK government to give effect to the referendum Brexit decision as soon as possible “however painful that process may be”, adding: “Any delay will unnecessarily prolong uncertainty.”
He announced that a “New Settlement for the United Kingdom Within the European Union” agreed last February – the Cameron reform package designed to win the referendum – “will now not take effect and ceases to exist. There will be no renegotiation”.
And British eurocrats in the room, one or two of them genuinely tearful, visibly winced when Mr Juncker rubbed in the fact that any Brexit agreement “will be concluded with the UK as a third country”.
Across the road, Minister for Europe David Lidington was making a tiny bit of history by being the first post-Brexit British government minister attending what should have been a routine gathering of EU ministers.
But if Mr LIdington’s EU colleagues engaged in an impromptu “Hug a Brit Minister” policy, nobody was admitting it to the media.
Back at Commission headquarters the Hug a Brit policy carried on, even after JJC swept out of the press room after abruptly denying a suggestion that Brexit might be the beginning of the end for the European Union.
A “technical briefing” followed in a valiant attempt by eurocrats to tackle questions about exactly how, when, where and possibly why, the UK would be unshackled from the European Union.
It was, as the name suggests, all very technical and as your correspondent departed, a female Spanish journalist rushed over and enthusiastically carried out her duty under the “Hug a Brit” policy, which involved a legally-binding squeeze round the middle accessorised with two big continental-style kisses on both cheeks.
For the moment, it is still okay to be British in Brussels, but it may not last.
“The EU is already making 60% of our laws” – Daily Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson, April 22, 2016.
“Most of Our Laws are not EU-Made” – March 7, 2015, headline on Christopher Booker column in Daily Telegraph attacking a Business for Britain (BfB) “definitive” study that 64.7% of UK laws come from EU.
Okay, okay now, that’s enough, we can’t really stand any more of this, thank you very much: why don’t we just scrap the rest of the EU in-out debate in the UK, because it’s not getting us anywhere, and have the referendum vote now?
The launch of the official political campaign in mid-April hasn’t clarified arguments for and against staying in the club.
And the official campaign hasn’t smothered the unofficial in-fighting between factions on both sides.
For a start, everyone has already forgotten about the legendary four negotiating baskets donated to the referendum campaign by the European Commission into which David Cameron carefully placed all his available pro-European oeufs.
For a finish, it will all come down to gut feelings based on decades of enjoyable tales about bent bananas, euro-sausages, funny foreigners, and faceless unelected eurocrats.
And between the start and the finish is a cacophony of clashing voices claiming to know all about unknowable outcomes based on fuzzy-headed partisan ideas, and making a public relations disaster of the whole thing.
So we must now widen the referendum campaign to create a “third way” voice representing the views of the vast majority of people who can’t make head or tail of who’s right and who’s wrong.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to unleash the might of the Stay on the Fence Campaign.
It is time, quite possibly, for ordinary people to stand up and be, if not counted, then at least acknowledged as the biggest united voice in this ill-informed, ill-tempered and yet somehow quite enthralling clash of wills over where we, as a nation, stand, or, in the case very many, sit, on issues of reasonably-high importance.
And where the masses sit is on the fence, a very useful vantage point from where they can see quite clearly both sides of the argument, and recognise the scaremongering on both sides for what it really is – scaremongering.
So why is there no fence option on the referendum ballot paper?
Ah yes, you say, but the proposed Stay on the Fence campaign would be, in effect, just a very wishy-washy branch of the Remain campaign.
Ah no, comes the reply; fence-sitting is a long-established and distinctly British style of commitment to the cause of not upsetting the status quo while avoiding complicity with excitable federalist types whose fervour can be quite disturbing.
And of course fence-sitting avoids complicity with excitable nationalistic types whose fervour can also be quite disturbing.
If the net result is staying in the EU, so be it.
The fact is that the addition of a fence-sitting option on the referendum ballot paper would generate a much more balanced debate and massively increase voter turn-out, and that can only be a good thing.
I have no doubt that the fence-sitters would be invincible.
United under the slogan “Don’t Stand For It – Sit on the Fence”, the leaders of the Stay on the Fence campaign would work about eight hours a day except weekends and bank holidays from now until polling day to get the message across.
They would try to be much more lukewarm than the Remainers and Leavers about what the whole EU project really means to you and your families.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the people of Britain should never have been put in this uncomfortable position, but we are where we are.
And choosing to stay sitting on the fence means you cannot be wrong.
Or indeed, right.
Sitting on the fence will not end the uncertainty.
But it will enable us to carry on having our cake and eating it while avoiding putting all our eggs in one basket.
On the other hand, we will have to keep the baby AND the bathwater.
Because where we stand on Europe is where we sit.
On the fence.
And there will be no climb-down. (Cushions will be provided).
“The Eurovision Song Contest is a perfect platform for informing people about their rights to equal treatment and for spreading the benefits of diversity all around Europe. What better framework than a vibrant European-wide entertainment event bringing together all the different cultures and flavours of Europe?”
Vladimir Spidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities
April 24, 2007
Wise words, Vladimir, and I'm sure the other Vladimir would agree, after Russia stormed home with a creditable second place in the latest Eurovision song contest.
Thankfully the plucky Swedes came first, saving the competitors from the European Union being totally humiliated and facing the unpalatable prospect of receiving gold-edged invitations from President Putin to join him in Moscow next year as host of Eurovision 2016.
Because that's how it works in Eurovision: whichever country wins, everyone goes back to their place for the next bash, , unlike in Eurounion, where the big ticket events are all in Brussels, with no razamatazz, regardless of who wins its comparatively grim, grey political contests.
So isn't it time to acknowledge that Eurovision is where the action is? Isn't it time for the EU, struggling desperately for an enthusiastic audience, or any kind of audience, to throw in its lot with its long-time rival?
Because they've always been rivals, at heart: Eurovision and what we now call the European Union were both French ideas, both hatched separately at about the same time in the 1950s with the same post-war mission to restore peace and harmony.
Since then one has been routinely ridiculed and derided as frivolous and corny, while the other has delighted us with foot-tapping tunes from the likes of Abba, Celine Dion, and Dana.
And after 60 or more years of both, it's now very clear that the future lies in light entertainment, not heavy politics.
Last year, of course, Eurovision produced its most sensational winner ever in the remarkable form of Conchita Wurst, who gave new meaning to gender balance, creating envy among men for his fine beard and envy among women for her fabulous dress.
He and she appealed to everyone, including eurosceptics, because his and her name embraces the three favourite words used to attacking the EU - "con", "cheater" and "worst".
Meanwhile, the EU delivered unto us Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, a team which appealed
to few, and certainly not to eurosceptics. In the intervening twelve months Conchita has gone on to gain global recognition on a scale even an EU leader doing the can-can in a tu-tu couldn't match.
So I put it to you that a merger of these two great unifying bodies of Europe is long overdue, to create a EuroVision Union (EVU). Only then will we have a Europe we can all understand and sing along to, with viewing and voting figures to match.
It just requires the 28 EU nations, all currently stakeholders in the Song Contest brand, to phase
out loss-making areas of the tired EU model and focus more on the performing arts.
There are so many advantages: adopting the Eurovision model means boosting Europe's foreign
policy clout in the world. Because last year, despite lacking a formal foreign policy, it was the song contest and not the Union that delivered Russia its first knock-back against Ukraine since annexing Crimea.
Moscow was forced into seventh place behind Kiev in the song contest grand final, after the Ukrainian entry boosted its appeal by symbolically putting a man in a giant-sized hamster wheel.
Another advantage : the EuroVision Union would adopt the song contest's very sensible policy of letting any participating nation opt out of taking part for a year or two if it wishes - just as Ukraine did on financial grounds this year because of unforeseen extra defence spending, incidentally boosting Russia's chances of doing better.
This song contest "set-aside" principle would work wonders in the current EU, for Greece, for the UK; and for any other floundering malcontents. You just sign up at the start of each year if it suits you and pay your fees. And every nation can be a winner, however large and small, without worrying about qualified majority voting.
And the Turks have just proved how much less fuss and bother the Eurovision model is. Having been a bit brassed off at their poor Eurovision showing - despite a win in Riga in 2003, Turkey has opted out and set up its own "Turkvision", song contest, which takes entries from countries and regions which are Turkic speaking and of Turkic enthnicity.
The fact that you didn't even know about this development shows just how uncontroversial it was: it didn't need a referendum, a unanimous Treaty change or any ratification or years of endless argy-bargy - the Turks just did it. (The most recent Turkvision fest was last November. The winner was Kazhakstan. Turkey came fifteenth. Out of fifteen.)
Anyway the case for a merger between Eurovision and the EU is overwhelming. The first Eurovision Song Contest was held in May 1956 in Lugano, in the very same month that a report was published endorsing the results of a meeting the previous year in Messina of a group of countries intent on setting up a common market.
Switzerland won that first song contest with a song about melancholy and rain. Seven countries; singing two songs each, had taken part.
Six countries; all singing the same tune, were in at the start of what became the EU.
Now the EU has 28 members, each singing several songs at the same time, from different song sheets, while Eurovision this year had 27 entrants, singing one song each, consecutively.
And while the EU is increasingly unpopular across Europe; the Eurovision song contest is so popular that everyone now pretends they don't watch it. Even those who really really don't watch it are keen to know the result. You can't say that about your average euro-election or EU summit, can you?
If you still doubt the case for a merger between Eurovision and the EU , there's more. Two song contest entrants, Dana and Nana Mouskouri, went on to become Euro-MPs. Then a few years ago Dutch Liberal Democrat MEP Toine Manders called for an "EU Song Contest", open only to EU member states, to be held annually on Europe Day, May 9, with entrants obliged to sing in their own language.
It never happened, but but in the same year the Eurovision Song Contest did receive official backing for the first time from the EU's "European year of Equal Opportunities for All" programme.
And, bringing us bang up to date; even UKIP leader Nigel Farage has now cited the song contest in his argument about why Prime Minister David Cameron will fail to get serious EU reforms.
The Cameron pledge to alter the UK's balance of power in the EU is laughable, says Farage, given the "level of prejudice" against British singers in the song contest.
Be that as it may, Europe, and Britain in Europe, needs lights, action, glitz and glamour as well as fusty old politics. We all need a Europe in which the next Treaty crisis or economic shockwave is countered by a rousing yodel from Austria; a Baltic ballad or some riotous heavy metal from Finland.
So get out the greasepaint, bring on the orchestra, the acrobats and the crooners; and the appreciative roar of the crowd will follow.
A EuroVision Union is just what the jaded public needs - something which delivers the political goods by making a song and dance about the issues that matter most to them, preferably in not more than three minutes.
It's never too late to follow the teachings of that wise European Commission President from Luxembourg and do less, even if we cannot do it better.
I speak not of the new holder of the post, Jean-Claude Junker, but of the man who originally declared that Europe should do less and do it better, Jacques Santer.
Jacques, the second of the three Luxembourgers to hold the highest office, is now best remembered as the only Commission president forced to resign over allegations of sleaze and incompetence.
He hadn't been the most dynamic Commission President, but nor was he a crook, and his downfall can be blamed on one of his Commissioners, Edith Cresson, who gave well-paid Commission work to an old chum who clearly wasn't qualified. The old chum was her dentist and when the tooth came out (sorry) Santer's fate was sealed.
He and his team departed on the day a report into Commission malpractice declared that "It is difficult to find anyone who has even the slightest sense of responsibility".
But before the scandal of the dodgy dentist kicked him in the teeth (sorry), Jacques coined a catchphrase when he said that the Commission's aim in future would be "to do less, but do it better".
Scribes and thinkers pondered these few words and found them to be good, particularly the first bit. Because doing less is, in a very real sense, the least we can do.
Santer's slogan followed a hectic few years during which the EU had grown a few treaties, expanded to 15 countries, started EU membership entry talks with a dozen more and launched the euro. In other words, business as usual.
But his call for, at the very least, a bit of a break from so much doing, didn't really work. The affair of the dentist extracted (sorry) all credibility from Santer's regime; and after he was sentenced to serve time as an MEP, the Commission picked itself up and ploughed on doing more, and not necessarily doing it better.
To this day, the EU has not had much success in doing less.
The Union's component parts seem to need to keep busy: who wants to be a fonctionnaire with a reputation for doing less?
Commissioners need initiatives and policy proposals, MEPs need soap-boxes built and maintained, not to mention feathers for their caps and political scalps for their belts.
And the Council of Ministers needs an endless supply of councils for the ministers with all that that implies for doing much, much more.
Even standing still is not an option, never mind standing still better. There must always be something on the go: treaties and changes, and policy programmes, document launches and experts in groupings, big consultations all tied up in string, these are a few of my fav......sorry I'm getting carried away now.
Where were we? Yes, added to the above is the ever-present urge for even more EU expansion, despite plenty of evidence that doing less and doing it better would be a very useful skill in that particular department. Commendably, Jean-Claude Juncker has at least ruled out any new members in the EU club for the next five years, on the grounds that we've got more than enough on our hands.
The EU did slow down, briefly, once. There was an official "pause for reflection" after a constitutional treaty collapsed, but that only resulted in a determination to go at it again with even more gusto.
Mr Juncker's predecessor as president, Jose Manuel Barroso then started speaking of "more Europe", although, to fend off critics, his people argued that more can actually be less, in the same way that less is often said to be more.
More or less.
But what Jean-Claude Juncker said recently is somewhere in between. He promised to work for "an EU that is bigger and more ambitious on big things; and smaller and more modest on small things".
That is decidedly ambiguous, and you don't have to be an expert to realise that there is too much going on, everywhere, all the time.
With some notable exceptions, institutions, governments and people are doing more and doing it worse.
So doing less would be good, and let us salute Jacques Santer and live our own lives by his unfulfilled creed.
I myself have been doing less for some considerable time, and I am now on the brink of trying to do it better.
But I'm taking it one step at a time.
A Meade Davis Communications website || All rights reserved