An eel farmer in Gloucestershire who exports eels to continental Europe, and who voted for Brexit, may lose his business because of eel paperwork incurred by the red-tape-removing Brexit he voted for. One can only pity him, and his eels. The time for filthy Remainer schadenfreude has passed. But regular readers will remember that I was among many in the liberal commentariat ridiculed for flagging up the post-Brexit fate of eels. Indeed, to highlight the issue in the spring of 2016, I and Bob Geldof swam the full length of the Severn estuary dressed as eels, while Nigel Farage bombarded us with scoops of mash from an amphibious vehicle. Our gesture was, predictably, dismissed as part of “Project Fear” by Dan Hananananan in the Daily Telegraph, and yet our projected fears have come true. Before the eel farmer voted, he should have sought eel advice from a source better equipped than him to understand the eel issues. An eel perhaps. Brexit! It’s like eels voting for some kind of religious festival where everyone eats eels.
Why did the bleary-faced Brexit gangmaster Michael Gove have such contempt for eels and their future outside the single market? Is it revenge, because his telescopic eyes, beak-like rostrum and aquatic pallor make him look like an out-of-focus underwater photograph of an eel? Old school friends at Robert Gordon’s college say that, for the otherwise icy Gove, being mocked in the showers for his resemblance to the tasty fish was his achilles eel. It is even rumoured on the dark web that Gove himself was once mistaken for an eel by his co-Brexiter Mark Francois while frolicking in a culvert, leading to a shameful incident involving a scoop of mash and some liquor that it took all of his wife Sarah Vine’s press connections to conceal.
Vine herself has also been frolicking, but in the bow wave of Brexit, like a horrible porpoise, writing in the Daily Mail on Christmas Day that her fallings-out with Remainer friends mean “few have paid such a heavy cost” as her for Brexit. This is, of course, to overlook the fact that an MP was murdered in the street by a white supremacist during the Brexit campaign for defending immigration, a cost perhaps heavier than having an uncomfortable moment at a 50th birthday party.
A civilised person shouldn’t respond to opinion pieces like Vine’s. And one certainly shouldn’t allow prurience to provoke a visit to the Daily Mail’s website, to view Vine’s column in its natural habitat of eating-disorder body-shaming and celebrity-swimwear-suitability judgment – an action similar to a coprophiliac’s desire to lift the lid on an especially despoiled toilet bowl. Vine exists in a sick inversion of Finley Peter Dunne’s aphoristic 1893 definition of the purpose of a newspaper, her role being to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.
The final insult to those who correctly opposed Brexit is the Brexit-Covid government’s characteristically heartless decision to name the fudge-stained document that supposedly resolves it the “Christmas Eve Agreement”. Now, every Christmas Eve, eternally inconsolable Remainers will be forced to remember the moment their hopes and dreams were definitively destroyed; and when the faith of simple honest fisherfolk and the eels they care for, whose yearnings Gove and his cruel cronies exploited, was finally betrayed. This stomach-turning conclusion is now forever linked with the celebration of Christmas, a time of goodwill to all, and to all eels, that is by definition the opposite of Brexit, and the values all its supporters stand for.
To that end, I have already taken steps to consciously uncouple my household’s next Christmas from the hated Christmas Eve Agreement. Until the abandonment of the original calendar by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, Christmas fell on what would now be 21 December, the winter solstice and date of the pagan Saturnalia festival, whose emotional resonances the early church hoped to absorb and capitalise on, a bit like when Coca-Cola acquired Schweppes. By making 21 December our family’s official Christmas henceforth, our new Christmas Eve will become 20 December, not the hated 24th, now stained for ever by the horrible Brexiters, renegade radicalised wise men throwing donkey dung into the face of the newborn Christ.
Sadly, our refusal to accept the reality of Brexit also means we will be required to reject all vestiges of Christian belief. Even I, as a nonbeliever, regret this, the influence of Christianity being so deeply woven into much of the art, music, folklore and literature that I love. Nonetheless, I have begun designing and printing Christmas cards for the non-Brexit Christmas our family will enjoy this year, rejecting the Brexit-tainted baby Jesus and his associated imagery, and celebrating instead the memory of the eels Brexit has condemned.
Pilgrims stare at a manger, occupied by a single, baby-sized eel, waving an EU flag; shepherds on a hillside stare up at an enormous winged eel fingering a flute, as it pipes a hymn of praise to the Erasmus programme; wise men riding on elephant-sized eels follow a 1,000ft-long flying eel, as it wriggles across the yellow EU star-strewn sky; and a jolly red-faced eel, Jean-Claude Junkeel, clambers down a chimney with a sackful of still valid trade agreements, educational options, work opportunities and eels.
Enough! Or too much! I am reminded that I was in Southend-on-Sea last March, doing a show days before the first lockdown. Passing a cafe serving traditional cockney food, I realised I had never knowingly eaten eels. I went in and necked one, with mash and thick green liquor, whilst reading a Clark Ashton Smith paperback I had just found in an Oxfam shop. In this weird new world, totally transformed by politics and plague, how vivid and valuable this previously unspectacular memory now seems.
Stewart Lee is a standup comedian, writer and director.