What do you do if you are the Kingdom of the Netherlands?
No inheritance to speak of,
only land water then sea water
and over 17 million souls squeezed in between.
Well, you take nothing for granted.
You learn irrigation, navigation and English,
you grow cash crops
make yourself widely available
to trading opportunities,
hold on to gold,
maintain a healthy scepticism
drink good beer,
learn to laugh heartily at misfortune,
holiday far from home.
And in your foreign policy
you adopt an approach which one talented observer calls
“never go first, never go alone”.
This philosophy informs
the little opening speech
made by the Dutch Parliamentarian
to the British delegation
just off the plane from Berlin.
The Dutchman is tall and fair.
There’s a nice style about the pale grey suit,
the white shirt with the knitted navy tie
his brown suede shoes which look English.
In his buttonhole he wears a white carnation
in memory of Holland’s war dead.
We are your very good friends,
he tells the Brits, we always will be
but the European Union is more important to us.
By the way we think you’re crazy.
We’ve learnt lessons about referenda from you guys,
we won’t make that same mistake hah hah.
On shelves across the length of one wall
the Dutch equivalent of Hansard,
one book for each parliamentary term
bound in a beautiful duck-egg blue.
The next day the British delegation
lunches at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Ministry’s suite of offices have been modernised,
a Chef de Protocol explains,
and an open plan lay-out introduced which the staff prefer,
the only thing is that the changes
have reduced the size of the lift reserved for VIPs
but never mind the VIPs in these populist times,
it’s ok for them to feel a little confined in the lift hah hah.
The tiles in the guest lavatory are duck-egg blue
and in the lobby the carpet is an archly
urban camouflage that is so beautifully fitted
it shifts like silver under foot.
The tanned diplomat looks like a movie director;
his welcome speech is a true exposition of the EU27 position,
and he charmingly speculates there is less than a one per cent chance
that the Commission will re-consider the terms of the UK’s withdrawal.
But of course this is just his opinion.
Is that a twinkle in his eye?
There are sandwiches and coffee
and the young man from the finance ministry
talks laughingly of risk aversion.