Broken British plumbing – ceci n’est pas une pipe

This is not a pipe, but my homework for the non-narrative fiction course at City University. Whoops! That should read “narrative non-fiction”, but we are allowed to submit our non-fiction pieces to the “City Writes” fiction competition as long as they are short stories with an ending. Interesting; the never-ending stream of fake news makes it hard to tell the difference between truth, fiction and facts, alternative or not.

So, are the leaks in British plumbing real or just a figment of our collective imagination? Our downstairs neighbour was having her flat renovated when Mikhail, the Ukrainian plumber, told us that our central heating pipe, which runs under her floorboards, was old and corroded and about to start leaking, so he mended it for us. I didn’t ask about the visa requirements for him to come to the United Kingdom. Had he been Polish, he wouldn’t have needed a visa as Poland is a member of the European Union. What then is the threaded connection between our heating pipe and British plumbing in general? If you have been following the hoo-ha about Europe, in the wake of the 2016 referendum, you will have read last year’s Supreme Court ruling in favour of Miller and against the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union[1] and will be familiar with the metaphor of the “conduit pipe” to describe how European Union law has been introduced into UK domestic law since the 1972 Act of Parliament took the UK into the European Economic Community. Rather like the undersea channel tunnel that connected Folkestone to Calais in 1994 some twenty years later, the 1972 Act created this conduit pipe and an unprecedented constitutional connectedness across north-western Europe and the Atlantic Isles. It turned on a tap of trust to feed the 1998 Good Friday agreement and soothe the troubles in Ulster. Constitutional constipation might be another way of describing the brokenness of our plumbing, because our body politic is suffering from terrible intestinal pains and there are no plumbers on hand – Polish or otherwise – to unblock our democratic drains. Dr Fox’s Elixir of Global Free Trade whiffs of snake oil and quackery, rather than liberating legislative laxative.

Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be an interesting subject for historians. They will ponder whether he or his successor, Theresa May, more successfully aspired to failure. In 2010, Cameron’s coalition government commissioned the “review of the balance of competences”, an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK. It reported that the balance was about right, but that did not suit Cameron’s political purposes, so he buried the findings.[2] Not many people heard about the review, fewer read it and nobody acted it on it. “The evidence submitted to the free movement of persons consultation did not support the driving premise of government policy in this area for the last few years, namely that the free movement of persons must be reduced, that it is being abused, and that it encourages benefit tourists.”[3] So European Union immigration was not a big problem. In 2014 there was the referendum on the independence of Scotland. As an Englishman, I was outraged not to be consulted about the future of the union to which I, as a citizen, belong. Whatever. The process highlighted the asymmetric devolution of the four nations, in which Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have national-regional parliaments, but England does not. Although the crumbling Palace of Westminster – read physical, moral and political decay here – is located in the capital of England, there is a manifest imbalance. Curiously, the F-word so despised by Margaret Thatcher in her days of hand-bagging her European counterparts, has not resurfaced in mainstream English political debate, although federalism has served democracies such as the United States of America, India or Germany fairly well.

As we disconnect the European conduit pipe from our British constitutional plumbing and throw the Brussels baby out with the bathwater, the Scots and the Welsh – keen to protect their devolution settlements – watch as the CUP-DUP tinker with their confidence and supply spanners and bleed the budget radiators for magic money. This brings us, fiction or non-fiction, to the fantastical, technologically invisible border on the island of Ireland which will enable the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, its single market and customs union, yet allow Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom and at the same time enjoy complete and unfettered access to the people, goods and services in the Republic of Eire, which is part of the same European Union. Two plus two equals five. Top-hole! Our champion in the present Conservative and Unionist Party government is the Foreign Secretary, who has made a career out of turning fiction into alternative fact. A journalist colleague in Brussels wrote that during his time as The Daily Telegraph correspondent there, Boris Johnson “never let facts get in the way of a good story.”[4]

Question: What are we to do about this constitutional chaos, democratic decrepitude and European ejection?

Answer: We all know that the British Royal Family is German. In 2014 we celebrated the tricentennial of the Hanoverian Succession, commemorating 1714 when George I became king of Great Britain and Ireland. Hailing from Germany he didn’t speak English, yet his house ruled the country until the death of his descendent, Queen Victoria, in 1901. Luckily, she had married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, also German, and their son, Edward VII, kept the family firm going, as does the latter’s great-grand-daughter today. Back in 1847 Albert helpfully drafted a constitution for the plethora of fractious German states, so why not enter the realm of semi-fiction and get one of our royal princes to draft a new constitution. Some people like republics, some kingdoms, others prefer cloud-cuckoo land, so how about a Federal Kingdom-Republic for Citizens of Everywhere? We could elect as leader King Boris or President William Windsor the Fifth.


[1] JUDGMENT R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant). 24 January 2017.

[2] Cameron’s renegotiation and the burying of the balance of competencies review:

[3] Ibid.

[4] The road to Brexit was paved with Boris Johnson’s Euromyths, Jean Quatremer: