A Christmas fairy story

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John Redwood’s latest blog discusses how Red Riding Hood is a very modern fairy tale of life in the European woods…

Once upon a time a lady called Britannia was taking food to her grandmother Anglia at her cottage in the middle of the wild woods. Britannia was a very grown woman, but she liked to be known by her childhood nickname, Red Riding Hood, based on the old fairy story of the same title. Because she was no longer a child, she dropped the “Little”, though she secretly hoped sticking to the nickname would conjure an image of her with eternal youth.

On the way to the cottage she became increasingly aware of some man stalking her. She thought she could see him through the trees, but as she turned he vanished behind the foliage. When she did see him he was quite pleasing on the eye, so she showed him a friendly face. He came out of the dense vegetation to talk to her.

It soon appeared that he was a handsome fellow. Dressed in a well fitting Italian suit, which showed off his trim form to good effect, he had obvious Gallic charm. As the conversation developed it appeared he had a well paid job in Germany which in some ways sounded even better. He said he was called Mr European Economic Community which sounded a bit of a mouthful. Recognising this he said call him Common for short, as apparently his English nickname was Common market. Common said he was having a get together with some of his continental friends, and they were now all in some kind of club. Wouldn’t Britannia like to join them?

Britannia had had an unhappy life with foreign men in the past. Years ago there had been an abusive relationship with Rome which had ended in divorce and in a fight with a Spaniard called Phillip. Then there had been a bust up with a very aggressive Frenchman called Napoleon. Perhaps worst of all had been the rows with a German called Adolf, even though she had first tried to keep out of his way when she saw him bullying others. She reminded Common of this and said she didn’t want anything more than a few club nights trading together. There was to be no moving into a common European home, or trying to share bank accounts. Common said he fully understood, that was all they had in mind at the moment. She wouldn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. She could always so No to what the more raucous members of the club might get up to later.

Britannia signed up. It mainly seemed to go alright at the beginning, though soon she realised she had signed away her fishing rights and her food seemed to get dearer. Worse still when the bills came in for the common market she said she wanted, it seemed to cost her a lot more than it cost them, so she was always in deficit. Common might have a well paid German job, but none of the money came her way. He kept selling, not buying, which was how he stayed rich. She had a temporary spasm that maybe she should leave the club quite early on, so they did improve the terms a little and she stayed.

After a few more years it became obvious to her that not only did she always seem to owe them more than they bought from her, but the club subscription they had imposed was also very big. So she complained, and sure enough she got a rebate. So she soldiered on.

A few years later all the other members of the club led by Common and by his German friends recommended that they change things quite a lot. Common altered his name by deed to Mr European Union, and said he was happy to be known by his new nickname, Euro. They set out a range of new agreements saying that it was no longer just a trading club to buy and sell things, but a much wider club covering all the main features of their lives. They started to share a bank account, share a common home, share their energy, have the same views about foreigners and decide for each other how much they could spend and earn.

Britannia kept saying she had not agreed to any of this. She dug in when it came to the bank accounts, and kept her own.

Then one day when she arrived at her grandmother’s house as she always did to take her some of the dear EU food she thought there was something strange about her grandmother in bed. Her grandmother was telling her that it was now time for her to share her home with Mr EU. She said it obviously made sense to have the same bank account, to pool all the expenses, and to be guided in how to live by Mr EU and his very clever German friends.

It didn’t take Red Riding long to work out that Mr EU had commandeered her grandmother’s house and was planning to run her home and life as well. It was Mr EU in bed dressed very unconvincingly as Grandmother. Mr EU tried to reassure her. He told it was all inevitable. It was all going to be fine. She could have a bit longer before they shared a bank account and a bed if she liked. He realised it was all a bit of a shock, but it would be so much better for both of them. He had transferred Grandmother for her own sake, as she wasn’t safe in the cottage anymore.

When Britannia didn’t agree to his wishes he started to threaten her, in a gentle sort of way. He told her they could make it tough for her. All that trade she wanted might not be so easy to come by. When she retorted that she always seemed to be paying out for the trade and there lots of other places she could trade with, Mr EU seemed to change and became very cross.

Mr EU told her that her half sister Caledonia was on his side. Did she not realise she might become a real handful if Britannia didn’t behave and go along with Mr EU? Britannia was not inclined to believe him about this, as she had just had a long argument with Caledonia who had finally agreed to stick with the rest of the family, though she did know there could be a strong minded side to her half sister’s views.

So what did Britannia do next?

There are two variations on how this fairy story ended. Some say Britannia turned the tables on Mr EU, stormed out of the house, and lived happily ever after without him. Others say she timorously gave in, became his ward, and was made to work ever harder to meet his demands in their common European home. I am leaving it to you to make the choice. That’s the way modern fairy tales work. I know I prefer the happier ending.

Click here to read this piece in John Redwood’s Diary.

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