I was recently privileged to eavesdrop on a conversation between Ursula von der Leyen (‘Rosie’), President of the European Commission, and Boris Johnson (‘Bozza’), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Other people in the room included David Frost (‘Frosty’), Minister for the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom, aka Brexit Minister; Maroš Šefčovič (no nickname: Slovaks don’t like nicknames), Vice-President of the European Commission for Interinstitutional Relations; and an anonymous spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Business Brexit Working Group (NIBBWG). I’ll refer to her as NibWig. Ursula was sitting in a large chair, a bit like a throne, in the centre of the room, and everyone else lounged in very comfy looking sofas scattered around the edge of the room. (Look and learn, Erdoğan.) The conversation went like this.
Ursula: Hey Bozza, how’s married life treating you?
Boris: Great, just great, Rosie. Now that Dom the Spad (Editor’s note: spad = special adviser) has gone, life has returned to normal—spats in the House, Carrie in the kitchen, Dilyn in the yard. All good.
Ursula: Dom the Spad? I like that. Reminds me of Vlad the Impaler.
Boris: Very similar, Rosie, but Dom’s barbs were words not sharpened poles. But, enough of the pleasantries. We need to get down to business. Wassup?
Ursula: Ah, yes, wassup indeed. It’s all about sausages, Bozza. We’ve been …
Maroš (interrupting): And burgers and mince!
Ursula: Yes, Maroš. I’m getting to that. Please don’t interrupt. As I was saying. We’ve been getting complaints that some of your Northern Ireland chappies are not carrying out the stringent checks on quality as per our Northern Ireland Protocol agreed between your good self and my predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker—Johnny to his mates—and essential food items such as sausages and, yes Maroš, burgers and mince, are reaching Northern Ireland’s green and pleasant land from whence they are freely transported into the Republic of Ireland and, from there, to anywhere within the European Union. Unchecked sausages, Bozza, easily available even in my own country where they represent an unfair competitor to our delicious knackwurst, wollwurst, thüringer, frankfurter, weisswurst and other German sausages.
Boris: Yes, you are correct, Rosie. The Good Friday Agreement allows for free movement of goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Protocol allows for a soft border between these two territories. We have found it very difficult to establish a hard border down the middle of the Irish Sea and, as you’ve correctly stated, some of our superb formerly-and-still-manufactured-to-EU-standard sausages have reached your domain to be consumed by EU citizens who, quite frankly, couldn’t give a toss about the country of origin as long as they are tasty.
NibWig: Well said, Mr Johnson. Indeed, our sausages are still manufactured to EU standards and, I can assure you, taste as good now, if not better, than they did before the Protocol was signed and sealed. Try the chorizo variety, and venison if you can find them.
Frost: And, please, please, please, do nothing to upset the fragile peace that exists between the Unionists and the Nationalists, also known as the Loyalists and Republicans or Protestants and Catholics, in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Tony and Bertie worked hard to get that Good Friday Agreement in place and although it sits uneasy with some, it’s all we’ve got preventing the Troubles from returning.
Boris: I agree, Frosty. So, what’s the answer? Ideas anyone?
Maroš: You could set up a flotilla of barges down the middle of the Irish Sea and create a border hard enough to allow enforced inspection but soft enough to allow the sausages through.
Boris. No, that won’t work, Maroš. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. We can’t have a goods and service border of any sort between the four members of the UK.
Maroš: What about Northern Ireland leaving the UK and re-joining the Republic to form a United Ireland? East and West Germany did just that back in the ‘90s. And, look, Scotland is champing at the bit again. Chief Mammy is banging on about another referendum and…
Boris (interrupting, shouting and banging his fist on the arm of his sofa): Ye gods and little fishes, Maroš. You can’t sit there and call for the dissolution of the UK. That’s like asking for the resurrection of the USSR, only worse. Besides, the Queen wouldn’t allow it. If the UK reverts to four different countries, she would only have England to rule over and that would be a disaster for the Royal family. No. You can forget that solution.
Frost (standing up): God save the Queen!
Ursula: Okay, okay. Sit down, Frosty. It does seem to me that the humble sausage has brought us to our knees. There must be another solution.
NibWig (leaping to her feet, shouting): Eat them before they reach Northern Ireland! Remove the problem at source. Build a large floating all-year-round enclosed barbecue pit in the middle of the Irish Sea—the European Sausage Centre. Add a helicopter landing pad, a 500-room floating hotel, a kiddies’ playground, a high-speed low-cost catamaran service from Belfast and from Liverpool, a micro-brewery, occasional guest sausages from other lands including your beloved bratwurst, Ursula, and let the people come from all over Europe to feast on good old British sausages washed down with a decent English or Scottish ale. That way, the people get what they want. There are no border issues. A holiday atmosphere will prevail. And money will flow into coffers.
A stunned silence descended over the meeting. And then…
Maroš: Geniálny! (Editor’s note: Slovak word for brilliant.)
NibWig: You’re welcome. Let common sense prevail.
And with that, the meeting ended and everyone lived happily ever after.
Footnote. If you are curious as to what prompted my report on this meeting, take a look at this article on today’s BBC website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-57388414 Sausages, and burgers and mince, are causing consternation among EU officials or, to put it another way, bangers are causing a sizzle in Brussels.