Tag Archives: rob jetten

Dutch Liberal Leader tells Britain: We want you back for good

The new leader of the Dutch social liberal party D66 channelled Take That in a speech in Westminster about Brexit this week. Rob Jetten, who at 31 is the second youngest political leader in Dutch history, met MPs and peers – and impressed them too.

The speech is worth reading in full because this guy not only has some good political instincts, but he’s really funny and knows how to use sarcasm. He jokes about Theresa May’s dance moves, his habit of repeating things in speeches, his and Vince’s relative age and all sorts. But his summing up of the “epic tragedy” of Brexit is incredibly well observed communicated.

The word Brexit evokes an image of a Britain that has to endure confinement in some kind of enclosure. An enclosure from which it can escape by simply moving through an opening marked ‘exit’. It can get up and go. A simple, single act of will. You just have to say yes or no. Piece of cake. In or out. All you have to do is tick the box.

The attraction of the image the word Brexit evokes is obvious. Standing up and going for the “exit” has the flavour of decisiveness, independence, change and action. Much more attractive than being passive. Sitting on your hands. Keeping things as they are, afraid of what is outside the door. And then, of course, there is the unfortunate rubbery capacity of the word for it to be shaped into all kinds of attractive sounding derivations. Such as “brexiteer”.

Who would want to be something as stuffy and boring sounding as a “remainer” when you can be something as new-fangled and exciting as a “brexiteer”, dashing fearlessly through the exit to the great outdoors.

He explains why the process of Brexit is so bloody difficult:

There is no simple “exit” that can be taken. There is no simple separation. There is only tearing. Cutting. Destruction. Every single element, every tiny strand is connected. The mightiest riddles, such as the customs union and the Irish border, dominate the political conversation. But the truth is that it’s nitty-gritty tiny strands of fabric all the way down.

During its 45 years in the EU, Britain has imported many tens of thousands of European laws and regulations. Many thousands more have direct effect. EU law has had absolute supremacy over British law ever since British accession. A little understood legal reality. The fabric of Europe’s legal framework is the fabric of the UK’s political life.

And he reckons we can get out of this mess:

My visit here today, I’m ready to admit, is fuelled by what some might characterize as blind optimism. A blind optimism that says Britain can still escape this mess. Naturally I have no real hope of making a dent in the national discussion today. But I believe Barack Obama—one famous foreigner who unsuccessfully intervened in the Brexit debate—when he says that optimism is never blind if it is rooted in tradition.

And you do know a thing or two about tradition. You do have a tradition of escaping at the last minute. It is no coincidence Harry Houdini spent his best years in Britain. It is equally less surprising that the great escape artist Sherlock Holmes is a British literary figure.

Nor is it at all strange that the most memorable of JK Rowling’s writing involves Harry Potter escaping disaster. What is necessary for this great country to make its greatest escape? I’m no expert, which is good, because I’ve heard you’ve had quite enough of them. But I would hazard to guess that it would take a last minute miracle. And I’m here to say that we will welcome miracles as befits miracles: with biblical comprehension.

The full text of his speech is below:

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