The Third Leader: An act of union

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The Independent Online

It is more than a little galling, if you will forgive the word, to discover that the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and France ought to be 50 years old by now, if only because the food would have been so much better, we could have shrugged at being called cheese-eating surrender monkeys, and Thierry Henry would have been available for selection in Germany last summer.

Actually, galling is derived not from our cross-Channel cousins but from the Old English for a running sore, which is not that dissimilar, given traditional relations. Those also explain the shock expressed on both sides at the revelation that in 1956 the French prime minister requested union, and, failing that, Commonwealth membership.

While slightly suspicious that this is another example of that wonderful French sense of humour, I am convinced it would have been a formidable thing, even if, obviously, the history of Eurovision would have been different, and the Beatles wouldn't have had a chance unless they'd brought in an accordion player and Johnny Hallyday on vocals.

Losing English, too, would have been a blow, offset by the fillip to performance tables from improved French GCSE results; alternatively, Marcel Marceau might have pointed they way to a possible compromis(e).

I can also understand logistical and administrative concerns, particularly as, by my reckoning, Eastbourne would be the centre of the new kingdom. But worries that everyone would have left to live in the Dordogne ignore the influence of Premier Perpetuel De Gaulle, who would, of course, have made the Tunnel one way.

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