Category Archives: Brexit

Rip Van Winkle (Again)

A Tale of Brexit for another Brexit Day

(After Washington Irving)

Once again, he had drunk the liquor the old men had given him, and, under a tree in the woods on a hill overlooking the village, once again he had fallen into a sleep so deep that 20 more years passed before he woke. Once again, his hair and beard had grown long and matted; his fingernails, like talons, twisted and long; his clothes tattered.

Rip Van Winkle stretched and yawned. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked around him. The village looked the same – the same houses with smoke rising comfortingly from their chimneys. The same little shops – butcher, baker, off licence, pawnbroker, bookmakers. The same church, the same pub. Only his hair, nails and clothes told him that another 20 years had passed.

He was hungry and thirsty, so, getting up carefully, he set off unsteadily toward the village. Going down the hill he passed a farmer, driving two reluctant cows up the hill toward him.

“How do?” he said.

The farmer just scowled at him and continued on up the hill. Rip Van Winkle thought this was odd, for civility was a hallmark of the village.

At the edge of the village, by a turnstile, he came across two elderly crones, deep in conversation.

“How do?” he said.

“Get lost, foreign vagabond!” one of the crones replied. “We don’t need your sort here. There are just too many of you around these days!”

Stunned, Rip Van Winkle stumbled over the stile, and trudged off toward the shops and the pub. Soon he saw ahead of him two men, arguing loudly.

They looked vaguely familiar, like older versions of two youths he had known, famous for their close friendship since childhood. Eloi and Settle. They had been born on the same day, were inseparable as children, married the same weekend, and moved into adjacent houses.

As he got closer, the argument became louder. “Could this really be Eloi and Settle,” Rip thought, “who never exchanged a harsh word, and certainly never fought?”

As Rip Van Winkle came up to the two men, they came to blows, hitting and thumping each other, and both shouting that the one had betrayed the other. Rip tried to separate them, but they both turned on him, raining blows on his head and further ripping his clothes. He made a fast retreat.

And so it went as he walked along the high street, past sullen, unsmiling, grumpy men, women and children going about their business in a grim, distracted way.

He entered the pub, which was dark and cold and gloomy, not the bright place he remembered, with its roaring fire, bright lanterns, and cheery atmosphere. Two customers sat at opposite ends of the bar, ignoring each other. Both eyed him with suspicion.

“How do?” Rip Van Winkle said to the landlord. The landlord did not return the pleasantry, he just growled “What do ya’ want?”

“A pint and a pie, please.”

The landlord slowly and reluctantly pulled a pint of bitter ale, and shoved it sullenly toward Rip. He took a pie from the cabinet, and without warming it, placed it on a board in front of Rip.

As he drank his ale and ate the cold pie, Rip Van Winkle thouight deeply about all that had happened since he woke up. He thought about the unhappy people, the quarelling friends, the incivillity, the unwelcoming xenophobia.

“So,” he finally said to the landlord, “I see that we haven’t left yet!”

On taking Wittgenstein Seriously

My human friend (and arboreal landlord) was irritated by a letter he had from some bloke at the (British) NHS Business Services Authority – the boss of it in fact – purporting to advise him what he needs to do about his health cover in case of Brexit, deal, no deal, or otherwise. It enclosed a round-robin from the UK ambassador to France on the same subject, covering other aspects of life – or no life – in the EU after the UK shoots itself in the foot and Brexits – or not as the case may be.

Since it is clear, even at this late stage, that nothing is clear about Brexit, neither letter is particularly helpful, filled as they are with ‘maybe’ and ‘possibly’ and ‘could be’. Both shout out: “I really have no more idea about what will happen than you do, but I am required by my government to help them spend the £100 million they have set aside to tell you very little about preparing for Brexit (because they don’t know any more than you do) and it’s as much as my jobs worth not to, so here goes nothing!”

So my human friend sat down and drafted a reply to Mr….. well I’ll protect his identity, let’s say he is a Mr Redacted:

Dear Mr Redacted,

Re: Your letter of 23 September 2019 (Get Ready for Brexit)

As far as I know, we have never met. Therefore the correct form of address when you write to me is ‘Dear Mr Verity’, not ‘Dear Jeremy Verity’.

Your letter. I realise that you are required by the government to write to me on this subject, and that you are probably doing so under protest (well, at least, I hope you are). The buffoons running our country must appear to know what they are doing even when they don’t, so it’s £100 million of our money well spent. But I counsel you, and them, to take to heart Wittgenstein’s aphorism ‘Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent’

Much of your letter is singularly uninformative, hedged around as it is with uncertainty; reservations such as
                “…may affect…”,
                                “…will depend on…”,
                                                “…if there is no…”,
                                                                “…you may be asked…”.
If you don’t know what is going to happen upon Brexit, or even what kind of Brexit there is going to be – and how could you know, the buffoons don’t, and they are in charge – then you should remain silent. Until you can state with certainty what I should do, your speculations can only cause me alarm.

Let us take just one of your suggestions: “Consider buying health insurance”. Do you think I haven’t considered it? Cheapest quote for the cover I already have (S1+private top-up) and, incidentally the minimum that will be required by the French government? Just under €11,000 p.a. Think a bit deeper, consider this question: How does a 79 year old, Windrush Generation British pensioner with a total pension income of under €1,300 p.m. afford €900 a month for healthcare?

Let’s take our thought experiment a step further. Suppose that my response to your letter is to panic. I rush out and sign a health care contract. Then the UK agrees to continue S1 cover after Brexit, or Brexit doesn’t happen. Where does that leave me? Stuck for at least a year with an $11,000 bill for insurance I don’t need but can’t cancel. Why? It seems, under French law, a rolling contract can only be cancelled on death or in the 21 days prior to automatic renewal. Thank you, NHS, but no thank you.

Maybe I misread you, but the overall gist of your letter seemed to be: ‘Brexit is going to happen; I don’t know how it’s going to affect you, but it will. Here are some thoughts which may be helpful. Or maybe not. But whatever, as far as the NHS is concerned, you’re on your own.”

You will be pleased to hear that your letter wasn’t totally unhelpful. The section ‘Travelling around the EU and UK’ explained that after 31 October I will need to present a copy of my S1 form should I need NHS care when visiting Britain. Didn’t know such a form existed, so I’d better get one. I would have thought that having an NI Card and number, a 45 year record of NI contributions, 55 year record of paying UK tax (yup, I still pay tax), and my British nationality, I’d be a shoo-in at any NHS facility. I guess not; but it delights me that I can help justify you administrators’ existence by jumping through a few more hoops.

You will by now have gathered that ill-considered and largely uninformative letters cause me concern, anxiety, worry, depression, and no little anger. I do not think you intend this, but that has been the effect. Nor am I alone in this – several British pensioners in this area have told me how frightened and upset they have been by your letter to them and by the equally unhelpful one from the ambassador you enclosed. We expats have low expectations of the Foreign Office and its outposts; we expected better of the NHS.

Finally, it is my view that, in 1964, when I entered the British social security system, the NHS undertook a duty of care for me which has not lapsed at any point since then. It continued when I came to live in France, though under a different delivery mechanism. I assert that this duty must and will continue even after Brexit. I am prepared, with others, to take whatever action is needed to hold the NHS to its duty of care to us – UK citizens resident in the EU whose healthcare is currently funded by the British Government and administered by your department.

Yours sincerely

But then, he thought better of it and didn’t send it!