Tom Peck's Sketch: Mr Bean, Norman Wisdom... Europeans love us

Being British, it is quite correct that it shouldn’t yet have occurred to anyone to wonder why the rest of Europe appears so determined we remain part of their happy union

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Indy Politics

Cecil Rhodes, clearly a man who felt he would never be found on the wrong side of history, once observed that “to be born British is to have won first prize in the lottery of life”, a statement as true now as in the days when Adam and Eve first strode naked round the Eden Project near St Austell.

Being British, it is quite correct that it shouldn’t yet have occurred to anyone to wonder why the rest of Europe appears so determined we remain part of their happy union, given our single most significant contribution is constantly to tell them how much we don’t like them.

But they’re getting more out of it than you might think. You’ve only got to say the words “Norman Wisdom” to an Albanian, or consider the undimmed popularity of Mr Bean, to realise that the Continental market for Brits making complete fools of themselves is vast. And on the evidence on 22 February, the next four months will be payback for all our misplaced superiority.

To call the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on the EU summit a French farce would almost be a compliment. History does not offer a convenient metaphor for the spectacle of two sides forced to fight one another when they’ve both got civil wars they’d rather be getting on with. Not even in their most outlandish moments have the scriptwriters for World Wrestling Entertainment had the courage to attempt a plot so convolutedly complex.

David Cameron stood up to the sound of complete silence from his own benches, and cheers from Labour, a sequence of events played out in exact opposite every week when Jeremy Corbyn rises to his feet at Prime Minister’s Questions.

The elephant in the room sat on the backbenches, with his unkempt blond hair and protuberant abdomen barely strapped in beneath his folded arms, and went unacknowledged for some time. The intricacies of Boris Johnson’s stance on the subject are typically unclear, but within his support for the Leave campaign, appears to be the suggestion that a successful vote for Brexit could be used as leverage for a more meaningful re-renegotiation. By happy coincidence, earlier in the day, the one-man Establishment that is the Mayor of London had been in Westminster Hall watching his wife being formally made a QC – his second wife that is.

“Sadly, Mr Speaker,” Mr Cameron said. “I have known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings but I do not know of any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.”

Labour could scarcely have loved it more. Ben Bradshaw slapped his hands against his knees like an eight-year-old boy suddenly rewarded with lashings and lashings of ginger beer.

But nothing deflates Labour’s brief moments of happiness like the arrival of their own leader. “Last week – like him – I was in Brussels,” Mr Corbyn began, “meeting with heads of government and leaders of European Socialist parties, one of whom said to me…”

It was at this moment that a cry of “Who are you?” emanated from the Conservative backbenches. The laughter went on for up to a minute, and with good reason, with Angela Eagle and Andy Burnham  realising far too late that they shouldn’t really be joining in. That it turned out to have been Chris Pincher, MP for Tamworth, who had done the heckling, a man who may very well be asked “Who are you?” by his own mother, only made it all the more enjoyable.

Cameron, it is coming to be near universally agreed, is a thus far under-rated Prime Minister. You only have to ask Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband or anyone disabled to be reminded of his ruthlessness. But it won’t have escaped Boris Johnson’s attention, as he further choreographs his last chance dance into No 10, that those two men both stood up to momentarily humiliate themselves by heaping praise upon the Prime Minister – a fate Mr Johnson has by no means escaped.

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