When the ever-rumpled Boris Johnson confidently announced last year that Britain would exit the European Union by the end of 2020 with a trade deal in hand and that anything else would be a “misstep of statecraft,” few people reckoned the statement would come back to bite him in the nether regions.
As things stand, Britain is on the verge of a no-deal Brexit which makes the Prime Ministerial statement a political faux pas of sorts

“Mon Dieu,” cried the French alertly. They knew their creations as well as anyone else and immediately grasped the implications of the Johnsonian misstep. Faux pas – meaning an embarrassing mistake – had been borrowed from the French. And if the Brits wanted to leave the EU, they would have to leave off their borrowed possessions as well.

It was going to be a long, cold winter. The British felt it acutely because they knew the enormous difference between the right word and the almost-right word. It was like saying “I apologise” instead of “I’m sorry” at a funeral.

The French were unrepentant as they noted that “ballet” was also from the French. It kept the English on their toes because the French knew how to put two and two together.

President Macron also insisted that “baguette” be removed from the English language. The President was insistent because the French felt a special affinity for its famous bread.

Even the Brits knew that the humble baguette was invented by one Jacques Baguette. Sitting gloomily in his kitchen one wintry afternoon in the 16th Century, the near-destitute chef was pondering the future when his eye idly fell on some water, salt, flour and yeast in that order.

A more superstitious man might have shuddered and thrown some of the salt over his left shoulder, just in case. A more practical man would have mixed the water into a stiff cognac to ward off the winter chills.
But JB was made of sterner stuff and, in a magnificent moment that screamed Eureka, he mixed the flour, water and yeast together and, with just the right pinch of salt, he created the dish that would always bear his name and forever sustain French armies marching towards surrender.

Even Marie Antoinette lost her head over a careless reference to the great inventor. When told that the French people were starving and needed food, the haughty queen replied: “Let them eat baguette.”
The President couldn’t resist rubbing it in to the English. “You will notice,” cried Macron triumphantly. “That she did not say ‘let them eat chips.”

Richard Branson was aghast that “entrepreneur” was also from the French, while musicians groaned to find out that “genre” had also been ruled out.

On the other hand, the British thought that the French could keep some of their words, thank you. Take the pretentious “avant-garde” for instance. The late, great John Lennon put it best. “Avant-garde?” he asked ironically. “Doesn’t that mean bullshit in French?”

The English thought that the French could also keep hors d’oeuvres, those bits of food served at fancy parties. Most folk could neither pronounce nor spell the word.

It wasn’t the sort of English word like “horticulture” which was a good, stout Anglo-Saxon word right up there with “major” or “Anglican.” And, unlike hors d’oeuvres, it was easy to make a sentence with horticulture.
As an example, let me famously quote Dorothy Parker: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”


“Mon Dieu,“ gasped the head of French spirits maker Pernod Ricard SA. 

There was reason enough to mention God for worldwide 2019 sales of cognac and spirits were falling faster than gravity and the fact alone should have been depressing enough to drive any man to drink.

Only it wasn’t and Pernod knew the twin reasons for the Debacle of the Spirits. It was, in turn, Brexit and, more grimly, the United States-China trade war. 

Britain’s exit from the European Union popularly dubbed Brexit was, to put it mildly, taking its time coming. Even Samuel Beckett thought that Waiting for Godot had nothing on this much-trumpeted exit. 

And it was taking its toll on the sale of spirits. Example: an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman go into a bar. Then all leave because the Englishman decides to leave.

You could see how an event like that, duplicated throughout the island, might have deleterious effects on Pernod and its sale of whiskey or brandy. 

The Prime Minister of Britain was a confident fellow. He thought he was always right because he knew it. And he had nothing against the European Union.

“It’s not EU you know,” he told them soothingly. “It’s just me.”

Bojo was an ever-rumpled mop off shaggy blond hair who smiled through life and firmly believed in teamwork so that there was always someone else to blame should anything go wrong. 

Like all good Brexiteers, he was nothing if not resolute. If at first, you don’t secede, he told everyone cheerfully, try, try again. 

You could see why a company like Pernod might not quite like the rumpled Mr Johnson. 

Indeed, the firm was more inclined towards leaders like Winston Churchill who regularly brushed his teeth with wine. Once on a trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minster had this to say: “The water there wasn’t fit to drink so we had to add whiskey to it. And, by great effort, I learnt to like it.”

You could see why a company like Pernod might appreciate such Churchillian efforts. 

The sales of spirits were also plunging in China, the world’s second largest economy and Pernod thought it was directly traceable to the US-China trade war that was damaging every trade-dependent country in sight. 

You might say the sales of spirits in the Middle Kingdom had fallen off a cliff. In 2017, it had grown by a staggering 27 per cent. The next year, however, saw those sales sharply brake to 2 per cent as the US tariffs began to bite. 

Even so, it’s a bit ridiculous for China to wring its hands so much. So its quarterly growth has slowed from 7 per cent to 6 and, perhaps, 5 per cent a quarter from now on. But it’s a developed US$4 trillion economy. In that context, even 5 per cent is , well, very good.

Singapore should be so lucky. 

And what did they expect? The US now has a President who implements what he promises comes hell or high water. Example: both Clinton and Obama had promised to shift the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and both balked because of the expected backlash. 

Trump just went ahead and did it. And, remember, he’d promised to bring China to heel over its trade practices. 

On the other hand, this is the same President who listed his three favourite rooms in the White House as, respectively, the Roosevelt Room, the Lincoln Room and the Oval Office. 

He ranks President Oval right up there with the best of them.