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Paul McNamee: We’re all waiting for Brexit’s punchline

"As it has moved closer it has made things make less sense, not more"

A man walks into a bar. With a giraffe.

He says to the barman, “Pint for me, pint for the giraffe.”

And so begins the greatest joke in the English language.

Or, to some people whom I have repeatedly told this, the worst joke in the English language.

Part of the problem with it is that the punchline – and we’ll get there, don’t panic – written down, is open to misinterpretation. And disappointment. And also tedium. Some people may insist they want to get to the end, but others decide for that, for them, they want another joke, a joke that speaks for them more clearly.

Nobody, not one element, has been able to answer a fundamental question about Brexit – will the poorest in society be better off afterwards?

It is in many ways a metaphor for Brexit.

Though, actually, it’s not. This has, so far, been a clumsy attempt to make a wry point, to show how cleverly I understand the collapsing Byzantine riddle that Brexit has become.

That said, it IS a very good joke.

– So, the man says, here’s some money. Stick that behind the bar. Keep the drinks coming until the money runs out or we can’t take any more.

The thing about trying to be clever around Brexit is increasingly that approach is fooling nobody.


There are currently around 2,000 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

Jacob Rees-Mogg might play the eccentric and make analogies with history around the time of King John and we say crikey, isn’t he a clever card. The truth is, for the majority, if we go much before the Tudors, knowledge of history is hazy. So we don’t know how much accuracy there is, or if people are being misled due to their own lack of knowledge and woolly facts being presented.

Which in many ways is a metaphor for Brexit.

Though it’s not. Brexit is soooooo much more complex and confusing than that.

– Eventually, the man and the giraffe have had enough. The giraffe is passed out on the floor, and the man starts ambling towards the door.

Only one thing about Brexit is clear. It’s going to happen. There were underlying social concerns that led to a percentage of the population voting for it. None of these issues have really been addressed because Brexit has acted like a confusing fog. As it has moved closer it has made things make less sense, not more. The language, the clauses, the amendments, parliament wanting to take back control but then baulking when MPs they disagree with disagree with them in a bid to have parliamentary control. Illegal funding of campaigns, denial of rights of movement but big shouts for rights of speech, shadowy overseas figures influencing outcomes, borders, non-borders, Russians, governmental whips, waistcoats, the fruit-picking crisis, major manufacturers looking to shift overseas. And nobody, not one element, has been able to answer a fundamental question about it – will the poorest in society be better off afterwards? If the answer starts to come back as a resounding ‘no’ post-March 29, then the campaign to rejoin will really gather a head of steam. Which will come as a delight to everybody.

– The barman, seeing the giraffe on the floor, shouts over, “Here, pal, you’re not going to leave that lying there are you?” And the man turns round and says “That’s not a lion… that’s a giraffe.”

Which, as you see, in many ways is a metaphor for Brexit…