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A Christmas nightmare: Mitch Benn’s Brexit Carol

A Christmas nightmare. Illustrator: Gary Barker - Credit: Archant

To round off the year, The New European columnist MITCH BENN turns E-BENN-ezer for this re-imagining of a Christmas classic. After encounters with the ghosts of Brexits past, present and future, will he find enlightenment in time for the big day?

The referendum was over. That must be clearly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the tale I am going to relate. The referendum was over and the Remain campaign was as dead as a doornail.

Did Ebenezer Benn know it was dead? Of course he did. Not that this stopped him grumbling on and on about Brexit on the internet machines, in the newspapers and to anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.

Oh, but he was an angry old Remoaner, Ebenezer Benn!

A smug, sarcastic, sniping, grousing, nitpicking, backsliding treacherous old saboteur! His contempt for the will of the people knew no bounds, and he didn’t care a jot who knew it.

One day, Ebenezer Benn sat in his gloomy shed, peering crossly at his computer screen, preparing yet another bitter petulant missive about what an idiot everybody was except him, when he heard a scraping, shuffling sound from the cellar. ‘Since when does my shed have a cellar?’ he thought to himself, before dismissing the sound as a product of his Twitter-addled imagination.

‘Everton Mints’, he muttered to himself, which is what they call humbugs in Liverpool.

Suddenly, there was a roar of wind, a clanking of chains and the distinct smell of bacon. Ebenezer’s computer screen spontaneously shut down as if gasping in terror: ‘I know him! Cameron’s ghost!’

Cameron’s ghost. It glided into the room like someone doing a sub-standard Tony Blair impression. Ebenezer studied the spirit: it was weighed down by heavy chains, which were marked with inscriptions such as ‘The Murdoch Press’ and ‘The Eurosceptic Rump’.

‘Yes, now look here Ebenezer Benn,’ spoke the spirit, its shiny face set with grim intent, ‘I would spare you from my fate. I too foolishly rejected Brexit and now I must wander forever in perdition.’

‘Oh come off it, ham face,’ snarled Ebenezer, ‘I’ve been to Chipping Norton. Bit chocolate box but okay if you like that sort of thing.’

At this the ghost set up a terrible cry and rattled its chains. ‘Hear me, Ebenezer,’ it said, ‘you will be haunted by three spirits. Without their intercession, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread…’

‘I told you,’ replied Ebenezer, ‘I’ve seen the path you tread and it’s peachy. You blew a bloody great hole in the country and then swanned off to spend more time with your interests. Okay so you’re not having quite as much fun as George, but…’

With a clap of thunder and a whiff of salami, the spirit was gone.

‘Werther’s Originals,’ muttered Ebenezer and shuffled off to bed.

As Ebenezer slept, his room was filled with blazing light. Standing at the foot of his bed was a curious figure, shifting, changing, as if trying to be all things at once. Its face was rosy-cheeked, with pursed lips like a doll’s, and when it spoke, as it now did, its voice was a blend of tones and accents, varying from Edinburgh to Oxbridge to Incredibly Smug And Prissy.

‘I am the Ghost of Brexit Past,’ it said. Ebenezer shaded his eyes from the bright light and the glaring self-satisfaction that emanated from the figure.

‘Behold,’ said the spirit. Ebenezer found himself in a bustling council chamber, surrounded by suited middle aged men. They smiled and shook hands, a general air of jubilation filling the room. ‘What is this place?’ asked Ebenezer.

‘Maastricht, 1992,’ sighed the spirit. ‘The treaty forming the European Union has just been signed. See how easily these fools surrender their sovereignty. If only…’

‘Wait a moment,’ interjected Ebenezer, ‘why didn’t you take me to see my former self? What was I doing in 1992?’

‘We must go now, for the night is…’ began the spirit, but Ebenezer cut him off.

‘Oh I remember,’ he said, ‘I was just finishing my degree in Modern Languages, during the course of which I’d lived in France, visited Germany and lived and worked in Spain with no immigration problems.’

Ebenezer’s eyes misted as he gazed into the distance. ‘How sad,’ he mused, ‘that future generations will be denied that right. Even my own children. And for what?’

The spirit went to a window and opened it. ‘Take my hand and we shall fly through time.’

‘That’s scientifically impossible,’ frowned Ebenezer.

‘I think the British people have had enough of scientists,’ the spirit scoffed, and fell out of the window.

Ebenezer found himself in his bedroom once more. From the next chamber there came a fierce light and the sound of booming laughter. ‘Come in, and know me better, man!’ said a rich, plummy voice.

Ebenezer ventured into the chamber. Sitting in the centre of the room, resplendent on a sort of throne, sat a great laughing giant. His suit was of the finest pinstripe, his hair was grey and stood proud upon his head; his face was round, ruddy and creased in a permanent smile. The spirit laughed, loudly and continuously. Approaching its throne, Ebenezer saw that it was made of free lunches, first class travel perks and sumptuous dinners claimed on expenses.

‘I am the Ghost of Brexit Present!’ guffawed the spirit, before laughing again.

‘Can you stop laughing for a minute?’ asked Ebenezer.

‘Why would I?’ replied the spirit. ‘I’ve got the best job ever! I can turn up late, without having done any work whatsoever; I can simply not turn up at all if I please, and there’s not the slightest chance of being fired or even slightly reprimanded!’

‘Why not?’ enquired Ebenezer.

‘Because nothing can be allowed to contradict the official version of events! That Brexit is going swimmingly and will make everything better! That reminds me,’ the spirit leaned down to address Ebenezer face to face, ‘I’ve drawn up a detailed 58-point study of precisely why you’re wrong to oppose Brexit and must join us in making it a success.’

‘Have you really?’ asked Ebenezer.

‘NO!’ roared the spirit. ‘Haven’t even started it! And there’s NOTHING anyone can do about it! Ha ha ha!’

‘Can I have the next spirit please?’ sighed Ebenezer.

Ebenezer found himself in a lonely, darkened street. Moving slowly towards him, there came a solemn phantom… tall, covered head to foot in a shabby dark robe.

‘Am I in the presence of the Ghost Of Brexit Yet To Come?’ asked Ebenezer.

The phantom replied not, but continued to glide silently towards him, colliding with a dustbin and knocking it over. The phantom toppled to the pavement with a faintly audible ‘Crikey’.

‘Oh, it’s you,’ said Ebenezer. ‘Let’s get on with it then.’

The phantom struggled to its feet and beckoned Ebenezer to follow him. They passed through deserted streets; closed, shuttered shops, abandoned offices, empty houses with repossession notices affixed to the doors. And here and there, posters, bearing the same face; a smiling, white-bearded man.


‘Seriously?’ said Ebenezer. ‘This is supposed to persuade me that Brexit is going to work?’

The spirit remained unmoved.

‘Or is it just supposed to convince me to blame someone else when it all goes wrong?’

The spirit shrugged and murmured ‘Nil desperandum…’

‘No, hang on, just stop,’ interrupted Ebenezer. ‘Look, I see what I’m trying to do here but it’s not working. The idea of doing a Christmas Carol pastiche is that the ghosts show me the error of my ways, not just re-confirm everything I already believe… that, combined with the rather tiresomely meta conceit of narrating the whole thing in the third person is making me look insufferably pleased with myself!’

‘Yes, but soldier on,’ said the reader, ‘you’re nearly done. Just the waking up on Christmas morning bit left to do.’

‘Oh, I suppose so,’ I sighed – er, I mean, Ebenezer sighed, and turned wearily back to his laptop…

Ebenezer Benn leapt out of bed, ran to the window and threw it open.

‘You boy,’ he called to a young lad in the street, ‘what’s today? Is it Brexit Day? Have I missed it?’

‘No sir,’ replied the lad, and Ebenezer sighed a great cavernous sigh of relief.

‘But not to worry sir,’ the lad continued, ‘everything’s still on course to leave the EU in March 2019, deal or no deal!’

Ebenezer Benn slammed the window shut and went back to bed.

And so, as Tiny Tim almost observed, God help us, every one.

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