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Britain is on the brink, and it’s an exciting place to be Australian

Passport control (afterthought)

And it’ll still be OK if Jeremy Corbyn is elected PM down the track. The scenario is admittedly remote considering Labour’s hammering in recent European elections, its dithering on Brexit and the party’s deepening anti-Semitism crisis, but in this era of political disruption anything’s possible. In which case, en-route to London I’ll just rip from my passport pages with entry stamps from Tel Aviv.

Boris Johnson has called on the EU to "rethink" its refusal to renegotiate the Brexit deal.

Boris Johnson has called on the EU to “rethink” its refusal to renegotiate the Brexit deal.Credit:House of Commons

Hospitality workers

On our trip we slept in 17th-century inns; dark wood, red upholstery, oil paintings of dogs. One naht’rally arrives at such places in Oxford, Chipping Campden and London expecting a front-of-house welcome from characters sprung from a P.G. Wodehouse novel. “Good evening, Sir, Madam,” they might say, “by Jove, you look weary! A stiffish brandy and soda, perhaps? So what do you say about this year’s Ashes?”

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But thanks to article 45 of the Treaty of Rome, guaranteeing the free movement of workers within the EU, instead of our man Jeeves we encountered brutally efficient Svetlana from Vladivostok, or Tomasz from Warsaw. Should Brexit eventuate, I assume the Svetlanas and Tomaszes will vanish. So maybe Jeeves will return. Or maybe the Brits will import more hospitality workers from former colonies. Or maybe the whole question is academic because there’ll be fewer tourists anyway; Britain’s tourism industry warns a hard Brexit imperils its biggest market, travellers from the continent.

On the other hand, more Britons will holiday at home; consultancy firm Oxford Economics said in March a no-deal Brexit could see a 5 per cent drop in Britons travelling overseas next year. So instead of getting ritually lobstered in Malaga, the poms will share our sun decks on the English riviera … All good. I guess.

Fish

With a riviera all its own, Cornwall, at England’s south-western tip, is at least one place where hospitality staff are usually as home-grown as the pasties and the cream. Here, 57 per cent voted leave. Subsequent polls suggest the Cornish have changed their minds on Brexit, but our waitress at a bistro one splendid evening in St Austell was not for the turning.

A view of St Ives from Porthminster Beach in Cornwall.

A view of St Ives from Porthminster Beach in Cornwall.Credit:The New York Times

“Whatever the fearmongers say, trade will continue,” she said. (Hmm …) “And the billions we give to the EU will be ours to spend.” (Hmm …) “And – we’ll get our fishing waters back!”

I figured if this meant Brexit would secure beer-battered cod and mushy peas on the menu for all eternity, or until stocks last, that was a good thing. Turns out fishing rights are as much a Brexit flashpoint as the Irish backstop. It could spark war. Cornish fisherman argue the EU fishing quotas force them to throw catch back into the sea; reclaiming Britain’s waters would yield hundreds of thousands of tonnes more fish.

But try standing between the French and their scallops. Within hours of Johnson’s election as PM, France’s Agriculture Minister warned him against restricting EU fishing rights in British territorial waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Another complication: 80 per cent of Cornish catch is sold in Europe. So if Britain does restrict EU fishing rights and in retaliation the EU denies access to their markets then … there’ll indeed be more than enough cod and mushy peas for us! More than enough.

Such a larf!

Few people “get” British humour like we do. We’ve long had excellent terms of cultural trade with the UK; exchanging Neighbours for Monty Python.

Nothing sharpens English wit like finding themselves in an existential cluster you-know-what. Remain or leave, leave soft or hard – these are less political debates than raw material for satire. We brought home a remainer spoof on Alice in Wonderland (“Theresa Maybe falls down the Brexit hole”), and the Ladybird books for grown-ups’ The Story of Brexit, replete with original Ladybird artwork from the children’s books. An extract:

“Leaving was the will of the people,” sighs Angelica’s father. He voted to leave.

Angelica voted to remain, but she feels the same way.

“It is the will of the people,” she sighs.

Now that Johnson’s at the helm – “we’re going to rise and ping off the guy-ropes of doubt and negativity” – the leavers are winning the joke-fest. His dishevelled “where am I?” schtick – only a man of his good breeding can pull that off. The same good breeding evident in Oxford’s elite Bullingdon Club, which he joined in the 1980s and whose members hired prostitutes at lavish dinners and trashed beautiful rooms at Magdalen College during drunken rampages. “Truly shameful,” he says now, trashing only marriages and countries.

His Daily Telegraph columns from Brussels in the early 1990s, suggesting the EU Commission planned to ban potato chips and regulate one-size-fits-all condoms, stretched the truth but were so bloody funny that people are still doubled over as he leads them to the cliff’s edge …

Book your tickets now.

Julie Szego is a Melbourne writer.

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