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William Shakespeare’s Brexit: A Political Sh*tstorm in Five Acts

Extract | 6 minute read
A plague on all their houses! In this extract from his new book, Boris Starling imagines how Shakespeare would have interpreted the great political tragedy of our age


Enter LAURA KUENSSBERG, BBC Political Editor, with a cameraman.


This is our story. All Brexit’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And each one in their time plays crucial parts,

The main roles being seven in number.

First, David Cameron, Prime Minister,

Shining of face, imperious manner,

As one for whom rule was seen as birthright.

Eton, and Oxford, and PR (as in

Public Relations, not Proportional

Representation), and then a safe seat.

The Cotswolds, no less: Jeremy Clarkson,

And Rebekah Brooks, and that bloke from Blur.

The Chipping Norton set, as they were call’d.

Then Michael Gove, once Cameron’s close chum

Who set principle in place of friendship

By opposing Dave’s own Remain campaign

And in so doing sunder’d their amity.

Perhaps embolden’d by taking down Dave

And with a taste for Old Etonians

Mike then set his sights on our third man here.

Boris Johnson. BoJo. Bozza. Boris.

Or Alexander Boris de Pfeffel

To give his full, glorious moniker.

An insatiable, priapic lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistresses’ eyebrows (or lower).

Full of strange oaths, hair mess’d like the scarecrow.

Some call him Fool, Jester, national tonic;

Some call him dangerous, unprincipl’d,

A man loyal to self and self alone.

Some people call him the space cowboy, yeah

’Cos he speaks with the pompatus of love.

(Prithee excuse me: different song.)

And then comes Farage, Nigel of that ilk,

With pint of ale, and cigarette in mouth.

A hearty chap chock-full of bonhomie,

A straight talker, socking it to all those

Dreary PC pinkos with some home truths.

Perhaps a golf club bore with braying laugh

And a navy-blue, gold-button’d blazer.

The commodore of the local yacht club

Or fail’d Norfolk DJ Alan Partridge?

‘You’re racist! Fascist! Dangerous!’ cry the

Metropolitan liberal elite.

And so he plays his part. Amidst these men

Is the leading lady of our story.

Theresa May. Let me be very clear.

That’s what she always says. ‘Let me be clear.’

The Maybot, absent human emotion.

A weak leader, spineless, inflexible?

(A biological contradiction.)

Or a serious, dutiful woman

Landed with a most impossible task?

A political Sisyphus, pushing

Brexit rock up Parliament Hill;

Or Maidenhead’s Odysseus, steering her

Course between the Scylla of the EU

And the Charybdis of the ERG.

Across the aisle, Jeremy Corbyn.

Darling of the Labour Party grassroots

Loath’d by his parliamentary colleagues.

Magic Grandpa, once student protestor,

Rejecting the Blairite New Labour cult

And taking things back to the olden days

When socialism was a viable

Alternative to the capitalists.

An unenthusiastic Remainer

On Brexit itself Jeremy seems torn.

Seeking always to keep his options open

And avoid fixing on a position.

And last, JRM of the ERG.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, double-breast’d of suit

Impeccably courteous of manner,

The Honourable Member for the 19th

Century, Victorian in attitude,

Sure of the continu’d employment of

‘Nanny’, loyal family retainer

(As oppos’d to Remainer, God forbid!)

Now charg’d with yet more work as Jacob is

Blessèd sixfold with the fruits of his loins

And their extravagant nomenclatures.

Alphege, Wentworth, Somerset, Boniface,

Anselm, Fitzwilliam, Wulfric, Leyson

And Sixtus: all these and more can be found

In the register of the Rees-Mogg births.

These are our players: now the events they play.

Long has been the road: longer yet it goes.

We know what has been. What is left to come?

What will be the very last scene of them all,

That ends this strange eventful history?

A fine settlement negotiat’d?

A further extension from the EU?

The revoking of Article 50?

Or the crashing out that is a ‘no deal’

Sans agreement, sans customs union,

Sans single market, sans Irish backstop,

Sans new relationship, sans everything?

Now back to you in the studio, Huw.

[Exit Kuenssberg]


Bloomberg Television Headquarters, London. January 2013

Enter DAVID CAMERON, Prime Minister, and his liege, GEORGE OSBORNE

CAMERON [To himself:] Today I wish to talk about Europe.

OSBORNE I really think—

CAMERON —Prithee keep thy counsel!

[Sighs] You have caus’d me to lose my place. Pray speak.

OSBORNE This referendum you are proposing

Is, I fear, not a bad idea.


OSBORNE It is a terrible idea. The worst.

Of all the bad ideas you’ve had, and there

Have been some absolute stinkers—

CAMERON Such as?

OSBORNE That rose garden speech with Nick Clegg, for one.

CAMERON Fair enough.

OSBORNE Of all those ideas, this one is

The worst, and by a considerable

Distance. Worse than all the others combin’d.

CAMERON Continue.

OSBORNE Once you start, you lose control.

Deep runs animosity in the shires

Toward the whole European project.

These people do not Tweet nor Facebook do

But their silence is not assent, and nor

Should we take it as such. A bloody nose

For Brussels, and for us the government;

The queue to make that punch is a long one.

CAMERON The fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists?

OSBORNE The members who desert us for UKIP.

Call them what you want. They vote agin us.

They will lap up the honey’d populist

Words of the nearest pound shop demagogue:

The easy answers to complex questions,

The cheap cooing of a reckless lover.

There are those too with genuine concerns:

Fishermen and farmers both, who buckle

At the yoke of EU regulation.

Blame the French—

CAMERON I do. ’Tis good for the soul.

OSBORNE Aye. There is truth in that, and more beside.

These are the currents which run beneath us.

Three problems above all I can foresee.

CAMERON Why speaketh thou like Yoda, with sentence

Invert’d so the first words are the last?

OSBORNE The gravity of things to emphasise.

The first of the problems is as follows.

In or out? Stay or Leave? All or nothing.

There is no halfway house, no room to move.

Not further integration on the table

Nor adopting the single currency.

’Twere those and we lost, there’s still a way back.

But on membership itself, ’tis all in.

And if all in doth fail, then ’tis all out.

The second problem I enumerate.

This will split the Conservative Party

Clean down the midst, as though a warrior

Had cleav’d it straight through with a scimitar.

All parties are coalitions, we too.

Europhobes and Europhiles under one roof.

The truce is uneasy, but it holds still.

You call this referendum, and you will

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

OSBORNE We blame the Lib Dems for everything, no?

CAMERON What else do you think they’re there for, my liege?

Last but not least amongst my vexations

Are the two Eds.

CAMERON They are better than one.

OSBORNE Pray explain.

CAMERON Two Eds are better than one.

OSBORNE This punning does not become you, my lord.

Messrs Balls and Miliband are tipping

Their hats toward the City and business.

We are the party of business, not they.

To put this status in clear jeopardy

Would be an act of monstrous foolishness.

You will let your entire premiership

Be held hostage to this if you proceed.

CAMERON The value is in the offer itself.

We will regain enough members to win,

Or at least to be the largest party.

Another five years of coalition

And we can blame the Lib Dems for saying no.

No referendum as part of joint rule.

OSBORNE We blame the Lib Dems for everything, no?

CAMERON What else do you think they’re there for, my liege?

A FLUNKEY enters.

FLUNKEY You’re on in ten seconds, Prime Minister.

[Exeunt Flunkey and Osborne.

CAMERON goes to a lectern.

CAMERON Today I wish to talk about Europe;

Its future, and our future, interlinked.

’Tis now thirty-eight years since you the public

Were last ask’d to cast a vote on Europe.

It was the Common Market in those days.

Now ’tis the European Union.

Nine members had the EEC back then;

Now there are no fewer than twenty-eight.

’Tis time to ask the question once again.

In the next Conservative government

We will give the British people their say.

A referendum: simple, binary.

To stay in the EU, or to come out.

[Exit Cameron]

William Shakespeare’s Brexit by Boris Starling (£12.99) is out published by Bonnier Books

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