SARAH VINE: We're off – no matter how hard they make it

SARAH VINE: Even in the tumultuous hour of victory, I knew mighty forces would do anything to thwart Brexit, but we’re off – no matter how hard they make it

Describing the current impasse in Brussels over Brexit the other day, the Prime Minister explained that ‘it was put to me that this was kind of a bit like twins and the UK is one twin, the EU is another, and if the EU decides to have a haircut then the UK is going to have a haircut or else face punishment. 

Or if the EU decides to buy an expensive handbag, then the UK has to buy an expensive handbag too or else face tariffs’.

Not quite sure what this tells us about the parenting techniques of your average Brussels mandarin, but in any case it’s the wrong analogy, not least because it implies that Britain and the EU are closely related in the first place. Which is not true, and never has been.

Twins have an inherent affinity. Even the most optimistic Remainer would probably concede that London and Brussels are, at the very best, distant cousins.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured above addressing the Climate Ambition Summit via video link in London on December 12

In reality, the situation is more similar to a tiresome break-up in which one party simply refuses to accept that the other has reached the end of the line. The more one partner tries to calmly explain it’s not that they hate the other person, simply that things just aren’t working out any more, and if they can just agree a sensible arrangement they can remain friends and co-exist on reasonable terms, the more sullen and unreasonable the other person gets. Eventually, having been initially sympathetic, patience begins to wear thin. Inevitably, things start to turn sour.

That’s where we’re at with Brussels now. Or, more precisely, France, since it’s Emmanuel Macron who, in this analogy, is playing the part of the partner in denial. Not only does he still want free and unfettered access to the metaphorical record collection (in this case our fish), he also seems to think that he can tell us what sort of wallpaper to have once we’ve finally moved out (or hit us with tariffs). We, meanwhile, just want to move on before our head explodes.

What Brussels just can’t seem to understand is that, like it or not, we’re out the door. Leaving. Gone. With or without custody of the dog.

We voted to leave because we’d had enough. And now they’ve behaved the way they’ve behaved for the past four years, we’ve REALLY had enough. It doesn’t matter how hard they make it for us, we’re off. If they want to turn this into a political version of Kramer vs. Kramer, that’s their choice, not ours.

The astonishing arrogance of the EU in all of this has been abundantly apparent from the start. Quite simply, they’ve never properly accepted the decision of the British people, taken over four years ago, to leave the EU. And, I suspect, they never will.

I remember that fateful morning like it was yesterday. Friday, June 24, 2016. I opened my eyes somewhere around 4am. It was still dark, but outside, in the street, there was a quiet commotion. Unfamiliar noises drifting up through the open bedroom window, dragging me awake. Not the usual sounds of a West London dawn – the buzz of scooters, the ragged shouts of youths, the hiss and sigh of the No 7 bus carrying sleepy domestic workers from the outer reaches of Acton to the mansions of Notting Hill.

No, these were conversations, hushed and excited, a steady hum of educated vowels, punctuated by the occasional suppressed laugh. Someone smoking a cigarette, sour in the clear morning air, a phone going off, quickly silenced. A very faint smell of coffee.

I remember taking my phone off airplane mode and a machine-gun fire of alerts flooding in. I got up and put my contact lenses in, then opened the door to my daughter’s attic bedroom, from where I used to have a bird’s-eye view of the street, seeing but unseen.

Down below, a forest of cameras and microphones, reporters yawning and stretching in the faint morning light. I could tell by their very presence that something big had happened. And that something could only be one thing.

When really major events happen in life, it can feel like a curious mixture of the momentous and the mundane. There you are in your pyjamas, in your 1930s terrace – and suddenly the whole world is staring at your front door. It is at once both the most alien and most familiar of things, like one of those weird dreams where you realise you have a whole other room in your house you’d completely forgotten about.

Not only does Emmanuel Macron (pictured above, speaking in Paris on Saturday) still want free and unfettered access to the metaphorical record collection (in this case our fish), he also seems to think that he can tell us what sort of wallpaper to have once we’ve finally moved out (or hit us with tariffs), writes Sarah Vine

My mind was in overdrive. I remember feeling like I was in a film, thoughts and pictures crowding in. I imagined my father watching the markets ashen-faced in his office at home in Turin, the sun coming up over the Alps, the first of innumerable black espressos at his elbow.

I pictured my husband Michael’s adoptive parents waking up in their toasty bungalow in Aberdeen, sitting on their blue velvet sofas with cups of milky tea, turning on the telly to discover that their son, that bookish boy they had adopted when he was just four months old, had helped bring about a revolution that no one believed possible.

I thought of Michael’s team, tired but elated – and more than a little incredulous at the victory they had pulled off against all the odds – frantically debating what to do next.

Friends, colleagues and supporters, bruised and battered by the viciousness of the campaign, shellshocked but vindicated at last.

The millions of ordinary voters who, undeterred by apocalyptic Establishment tales of death and destruction, had that morning woken up and, to their astonishment, discovered that for once in their lives they were actually on the winning side.

I knew then that everything was about to change, albeit I had no idea quite how much. And although I myself had voted to Leave, the thought of victory filled me with trepidation.

For many, including my husband, there had never been any question about which choice to make. But for me it hadn’t been such a straight-forward decision. I was in a uniquely conflicted position, genuinely pulled in opposing directions.

The astonishing arrogance of the EU in all of this has been abundantly apparent from the start, writes Sarah Vine (pictured: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen)

I was obviously fiercely loyal to Michael – what wife wouldn’t be to their husband? But there were other, equally vital, pillars to my existence, who took the opposite view.

Most important of all, my family. My parents emigrated to Rome in 1974, when I was five. My brother was still a baby.

We swapped Stourbridge for the village of Frascati, on the outskirts of Rome, leaving behind a suburban semi-detached, power cuts and the three-day week for a tiny tumbledown villa encircled by fig trees and olives and what felt like endless summer. I was enrolled in the local primary school, a milk-white English girl surrounded by tiny, beady-eyed Italians.

As I didn’t speak the language, they put me in the kindergarten to begin with, so I spent my days at the back of the class, wedged into a desk that was far too small, not having a clue what was going on – a large, slightly bewildered cuckoo in the nest.

But it wasn’t long before I cottoned on, the generosity of the Italians being never-ending. Within months my Italian was as good as – if not better – than my English, and my lily-white skin was burnished by the Mediterranean sun.

Even today, almost 50 years on, I remain bilingual. But of the four of us, I’m the only one to have returned to make a life in the UK. My brother lives in Madrid; my parents remain in Italy. Their lives are – and always will be – in Europe.

Equally important were our friends. Not just David and Samantha Cameron, but their – and our – wider circle. Not just individuals, but a support network which, overnight, disappeared – torn asunder by the bitter winds of ideology.

God, how I miss those friendships. Those were happy days.

Mr Johnson pictured being welcomed for a dinner with Ms von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium, on December 9 as the political leaders met in the hope of finalising a Brexit trade deal

One other thing I remember very clearly from that fateful day in 2016: realising even then, on the morning of the Leave victory, when expectations were highest, before all the legal challenges and political ructions that followed, how incredibly hard it would be to actually implement the referendum result.

‘They won’t let us,’ I told a friend, a staunch Leaver who was jubilant at the news. ‘What do you mean, they won’t let us?’ he said. ‘Leave,’ I said. ‘The EU. They simply can’t afford to. If we go, others will want to go. So they will do everything to make sure we fail.’

He shook his head: no way, he said, there was no way Brussels or Parliament could stand in the way of a democratic vote. I shrugged my shoulders. ‘We shall see,’ I said.

And so here we are. I hate to say it, but I was right. For the past four and a half years, mighty forces have applied every ounce of their power to overturning the result of the British people’s vote. Blind to the reality of the situation, Brussels has pulled out all the stops to make this democratic decision the most painful, most damaging, most frightening one any nation has ever taken.

But they will not win. Thanks to Boris, and his determination, we will leave. It may not be easy, it may not be nice, it may well be a very bumpy ride. Brussels has made sure of that. Who knows what tests await us in the months to come. But it is what the country voted for.

As long as Britain remains a democracy, there can be no other outcome. The sooner everyone accepts this fact, the better it will be for all concerned – and the sooner everyone can move on and get on with their lives.

A friend went to Fortnum & Mason, one of the world’s most prestigious stores, to savour a slice of its uniquely upmarket Christmas spirit. 

They found the ground floor jam-packed with shoppers gawping at Gemma Collins, the distinctly un-upmarket reality star, doing a trolley run of her own. 

Then they couldn’t find a single shop assistant who had even heard of panforte, the deliciously chewy Italian festive dessert. In such small ways do great brands die.

Our NHS is a service – not a magic cult

An advert, made by NHS Charities, depicting Father Christmas himself (pictured above) being treated for coronavirus

The NHS is a wonderful resource. But, as last week’s damning report into maternity failures at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust in Shropshire shows, it is not infallible.

Indeed, like all sprawling organisations, sometimes a corporate culture can be allowed to prevail that is deeply unhealthy. In this case, the drive to keep caesarean rates down led to the horrifically callous treatment of mothers in agony, and to the maiming and deaths of their babies by misguided and incompetent staff.

In a year when the response to coronavirus has elevated the NHS to revered status – a fact reinforced last week with the release of a twinkly, ‘heartwarming’ advert, made by NHS Charities, depicting Father Christmas himself being treated for coronavirus – let’s remember that the NHS is a public health resource which we all pay for via our taxes, not a cult.

Forty-two babies and 13 mothers died in the space of 19 years in Shropshire. Those are circumstances more worthy of a Stephen King novel than a world-beating health service.

Christmas traditions are different everywhere. In Italy, naughty children get a visit from La Befana (loosely translated as ‘the hag’), who brings them a lump of coal. 

I wonder if she could have been the inspiration for Gucci’s latest designer sunglasses, the ‘inverted cat eye’? Have you ever seen anything quite so hideous? Yours for a mere £470. 

The model’s expression says it all. Give me a lump of coal any day.

Gucci’s latest designer £470 sunglasses, the ‘inverted cat eye’. The model’s expression says it all. Give me a lump of coal any day, writes Sarah Vine

Friends tell me I’m wrong about this, but I’m going to say it anyway: I feel sorry for Kay Burley.

I know she’s done a stupid thing, and I know it doesn’t help that she and Beth Rigby (who’s also in hot water) have been such cheerleaders for lockdown hysteria.

But if you had told me this time last year that a person could get sent home for six months from their job because they went to dinner to celebrate their 60th birthday, I would have told you that you were mad.

Quite apart from the fact that Kay works (or worked) with these people every day, so arguably they were already part of her ‘bubble’, since when did we become such a vindictive and judgmental nation? 

Kay Burley and Beth Rigby pictured at The Spectator Summer Party, Westminster, in July 2019

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