An argument you sometimes hear from those sitting on the Brence (the Brexit fence) is that it’s a pity the EU couldn’t have stayed the same as it was when we first joined it in 1973. Back then, say the Brence-sitters, it was a trading bloc with only nine members, which made sense. Greece wasn’t a member, nor were Spain and Portugal, never mind Lithuania, Latvia and all those other countries ending in vowels.
But if we could go back to that better arrangement — play fantasy politics, as it were — would we, with hindsight, want it to include France and Italy, two of the original nine? Their economies are both now looking pretty rackety.
In fact, isn’t there only one country in Europe with which we would want to be BFF (Best Friends Forever)? You know the one I’m talking about. The Big G. Not only are we temperamentally similar to our German friends, we also have more in common with them than we do with our neighbours the French, or even our cousins the Americans (who, with Trump on the rampage, are looking increasingly foreign).
We have the same Protestant work ethic as the Germans. We enjoy the same things, such as brass bands, rambling and driving German cars. We both consider the sausage the height of culinary sophistication. We prefer beer to wine. And guess which country has taken over from Germany as having the worst reputation for reserving sun loungers with towels? That’s right, us, according to a survey for Travel Supermarket. Imitation? Flattery?
We both love rules, prudence, and ironic, self-deprecating humour of the kind personified by Henning Wehn, the darling of Radio 4 comedy, who wears a stopwatch to time his routines. (A typical German joke goes: ‘How many Germans does it take to change a lightbulb? One.’)
Even our traditional folk dances look similar, the Morris and the schuhplattler. And our taste in music is compatible — they gave us the Beatles, or rather gave them back to us once they had polished them up in Hamburg, and one of the most popular bands in Germany is Depeche Mode, who sound French but are British.
Not only do we import more goods from Germany than any other country, but they gave us our town planning, our Christmas rituals and even our welfare system (it was Bismarck’s idea originally). In return we gave them some of our words, such as schadenfreude, angst and zeitgeist. And to my astonishment, on my most recent visit to Berlin — I can’t get enough of the place — I watched a cricket match played in the grounds of the Olympic stadium, between two German sides wearing whites.
Above all, we are Anglo-Saxons. The Germanic tribes were here way before the Normans. And geneticists from UCL have analysed tooth enamel and bones in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and concluded that half of us have German forebears. Half. No wonder 400,000 Germans live here. They feel at home.
Even our royal family has traditionally been German, dating back to George I, who couldn’t speak English. And with the exception of George VI, every monarch since has taken a German consort. And if you are thinking: but isn’t the Duke of Edinburgh known as ‘Phil the Greek’? Well, yes he is, but Phil Schleswig-Holstein–Sonderburg-Glücksburg would be a more accurate nickname. And let us not forget that the Royal family retained the surname von Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha until 1917, when it was changed to Vindsor.
All these ties apart, the reason we would be better off ditching the rest of Europe and forming an alliance with Germany is that it is an economic powerhouse, the fourth strongest economy in the world. And as we are the fifth, that would make a union between our countries a full-on superpower.
Obviously this idea might need a little finessing. Germany will probably need a good lawyer to get it out of the eurozone, for example. But you take my point. And did you know Britain and Germany already share an embassy? It’s in Reykjavik and the commemorative plaque in the building, dated 1996, records that it is ‘the first purpose–built co-located British-German chancery building in Europe’.
Even the Scots might be on board with this idea, given that the Westminster leader of the SNP, Angus Robertson, is half German and speaks the language fluently. He could be our go-between.
The question is, what should this new union be called? We can’t have anything with the words ‘Anglo-German’ in it because of the Anglo-German Fellowship of the 1930s. That was mostly made up of British and German aristocrats and came at a time when Hitler — who loved Shakespeare so much he tried to claim the bard was ‘Germanic’ — had a big crush on the British empire, as well as on Unity Mitford.
And now I’ve gone and mentioned the war, and I was trying not to. But since I have, I will leave you with these two poignant stories about mutual respect between enemies. In 1940 a Spitfire pilot, Michael Lister Robinson, threw a packet of cigarettes at a Messer-schmitt pilot he had just forced to land, and got a grateful wave in return. Another ME 109 pilot, Hauptmann Hahn, while in a duel with a Spitfire, realised he and his enemy had run out of ammunition at the same moment. As the RAF pilot spread his hands philosophically, Hahn did the same and both then flew away laughing.