About bloody time!
A year has gone by since Britain first left the EU and finally the politicians have actually pulled chairs up at the table and started trying to work out the details.
It’s not that nothing has happened in the meantime of course: Since June 24th, 2016 British politicians have given onlookers a masterclass in the art of slapstick.
A couple of days after the vote Boris Johnson was saying that Britain would still be able to stay in the Common Market after Brexit. “No deal” said the EU Comission. He’s gone very quiet on that one since. It’s also been revealed that he sent an article to the Daily Telegraph saying that Britain should remain inside the European Union. Idiot.
We’ve lost one prime minister and gained another one. She promised “strength and stability”, called a snap election, lost her majority and now we might well lose her. Unless of course she strikes a deal with the Northern Irish, in which case Britain will transfer control over her affairs from Brussels to Belfast.
Anything else? Well, the pound has lost thirteen per cent of its value, economic growth is slowing and major financial institutions are laying plans to jump ship. You can’t call that slapstick though: It’s not even remotely funny.
It’s really not going well. These are just some of the highlights of a year in which Britain has taken the concept of farce to a whole new level. In other news, Boris Johnson called the president of Turkey a wanker and then had to go to Istanbul on his second day in his new role as Foreign Secretary. Oh, and England’s footballers got knocked out of the European championships by Iceland. Every tragedy needs comic relief.
If the government had at least made some progress at the negotiating table you might be slightly reassured. Well, the heads of the negotiating teams have at last sat down together, discussed their mutual love of hillwalking and — after exchanges of hiking equipment — Davis, Barnier and their respective negotiating teams have finally knuckled down to business.
I have a repeating nightmare that the first week of negotiations has consisted of heated discussions about whether Scafell Pike is a more challenging climb than the Puy de Sancy. I hope I’m hallucinating because more than most, I have had it up to the eyeballs with the seemingly endless beating about the bush. Like most Britons living in the EU — and most EU citizens living in Britain — I want answers.
As things stand at the moment, I may well be asked to leave Germany if the negotiations go wrong –and I have every reason to believe that they might. So far the noises which have been made are positive but until the ink is dry on the final agreement I trust both sides about as far as I can throw them.
At this juncture you might be asking what happened to my application for German citizenship? Well, the simple answer is that I am no better than David Davis and Theresa May and Michel Barnier. I’ve been beating about the bush too. Until last Tuesday I too was guilty of procrastination.
In the end, it took me until last week to get round to calling Mr Pfister and kicking off the application process. He ran through the list of conditions I had to fulfill: length of residency, German language ability, financial self-sufficiency etc. and I proudly answered “yes” to every question except one. I have not completed the German citizenship test.
I had hoped to avoid this step. My understanding of the rules was that I would be excused from this on account of having a university degree. Not so –unless that university is German. Mine is from Sheffield.
This is by no means a disaster. I had hoped to get round this but my not doing so I have at least fulfilled my prophecy that something would go wrong with the bureaucratic process. I feel strangely satisfied.
I sign up for the test at a local night school. It costs me twenty-five euros and will take place on August 4th. I can revise for it at home via the internet.
I resolve to be a good pupil and go home and make a start. In total there are 310 questions in the database, of which 33 appear in any one test sitting. I would have one hour. The answers are multiple choice, there are four options and one only option is correct. Seventeen correct answers mean I pass.
I find the database via the link provided and I have a go. I decide to go for an even hundred on my first attempt. Some of them are easy. Who wrote the German national anthem? Well I told you the answer to that a couple of weeks ago. The first line of the national anthem? Why stop at the first line –I can sing the whole damn thing.
Others are trickier. I struggle to answer questions about what the president does. Most Germans would do so too. I correctly answer the question which asks for his name –but only because I recognise it on the list of four options. I could tell it to you off the top of my head.
I do well on the functions of the government, the federal states and the social security system –most people born and brought up in a functioning democracy would. I do well enough on the legal questions and the role of the states and out of the 100 questions I try I answer 92 correctly. Not bad for a Scottish guy. I am quite pleased.
I am also intrigued. Such a test also exists in Britain. In the name of scientific comparison I decide to give the “Life in the UK” test a try.
In order to control my variables I decide to look for a test with 100 questions. There are none to be had. The British database is much larger than the German one, with 1,200 questions and the complete catalogue is available in book form only. That said, there are plenty of online tests you can try.
My first try is with a local news site in London. It’s not ideal because it only contains twenty questions whereas the real test has twenty-four. Nevertheless, the numbers can be divided in such a way that I can work out whether I reach the 75% pass mark. One third of native-born Britons would not do so, apparently.
Again, it’s mulitple choice. The emphasis is less on the functions of government than the German one and more on history and culture (in the broadest definition of the word). I drop one point because I didn’t know that serving members of the armed forces may not act as members of parliament, one because I couldn’t remember the start date of the English civil war and one for reasons I forget.
I correctly identify which sport the Premier League is associated with, what Gilbert and Sullivan spent their careers writing and the number of states in the EU. 28 is the correct answer, 27 wasn’t even an option. I get seventeen right and pass with 85%.
I refuse to believe that there is a story here. According to this less than empirical analysis I am more German than I am British. I am also very petty-minded. As such, I look through the internet until I find the official test.
It doesn’t look very official I must say. But it has 24 questions, the correct number for a real testing session, and a timer. I have 45 minutes. I am pleased to announce that I finish it in just under six with a score of 100%
100%. And it’s not like I can claim beginners’ luck.
Yesterday Theresa unveiled her vision for the future of EU nationals living in Britain. It has not gone down well. It too is a farcical and the shouting has started.
The phoney war is over. Ground is there to be won or lost. Cards are appearing on the table and it’s game on.
I am taking no chances. This is one game I want to be one step ahead of.