Even the BBC has noticed that the vultures are circling overhead and that the undertakers are lurking outside the door of Belgium, each awaiting their chance to profit from that state’s demise. Anodyne as it was, their report on Today will at least have alerted the more insular of its listeners to the fact that Belgium is really rather poorly at the moment and like to die unless someone comes along quick with a new vaccine against the lingering disease that has plucked at Belgium’s vitals for as long as many can now remember.

I have two very early memories of Belgium, which I first visited around 1962 or so when as a family we piled into the family car and drove to Lydd Airport, there to be loaded on to one of Silver City Airways’ Bristol Freighter aircraft with a bulbous nose and flown across to Le Touquet. Thence we drove up through the Great War Battlefields of Northern France and South West Belgium where my father’s two uncles had both fought before exploring Flanders with its strange language and rather rich cuisine.

My father was a country GP and one particular year was especially interested in the state of Belgium’s medical service. He was an early defector from the NHS (and went fully private by the early 1970s) so he was alert to some problems that Belgium was having with its doctors. In the UK the government tends eventually to compromise with its Doctors, either throwing more money at them or re-jigging the contracts. Belgium employed rather more draconian methods: when their doctors threatened to go on strike, they were simply sent orders mobilising them into the Belgian Armed Services (relatively easy for a country with a conscript army). We were in Ieper (Ypres or Wipers to the British soldiers of the Great War) and my father spotted a doctor trudging along the pavement: he was obviously such as he had a Gladstone bag and stethoscope in one hand and a kitbag in the other and was just about to enter an Army barracks.

He went up to the doctor and addressed him in his best French. For his pains he was answered with a stream of fast, voluble Flemish which even I, innocent as I was, recognised as being filled with words I was not supposed to hear, let alone know. Thus was I introduced to the Belgian Language problem (which is, that there is not a Belgian Language). Not a happy camper, the doctor stalked into the barracks, my Father’s question answered though not in words.

My second memory is of the standard of driving. I believe that Belgium did not have proper driving tests until not so long ago. If they did, then they were not very rigourous for a drive across Belgium was a truly scary operation as assorted vehicles engaged in some of the very worst driving I have ever seen (and I have driven across Milan once) that would bring a British Traffic Cop swiftly and irremediably to his knees. But I digress.

I have been following the various twists and turns in the current crisis which has left Belgium without a new government since elections in June of this year. A caretaker government with limited powers remains with its hands on the levers of power to ensure that the country keeps ticking over (advocates of minimalist government please note and take courage: the sky has yet to fall in on their heads), but, despite numerous efforts of the various individuals tasked by King Albert II to try and form a workable coalition, none has yet emerged. Of course, such problems have beset Belgian politics before and a solution has always been found, but on this occasion the various parties seem less troubled at the possibility that none will be found this time and something of the sense that the endgame for Belgium is beginning has arrived. It may yet be that the fissures will once more have a few more layers of wallpaper pasted over them but there is beginning to be the smell of death over the body politic that is The Kingdom of Belgium.

Already many are turning over in their minds the pages of a new atlas in which Belgium is but a memory and wondering how the game might yet play out. A series of maps of the various combinations can be found here. That there are so many variations on the theme suggests that the various parties themselves have not yet begun seriously to think of what should follow Belgium and I certainly have no especial insight into what that might be, though I would probably chance a bet against Catholic Flanders returning to any sort of Union with the Netherlands: too much history that transcends nation-making and delves into the deeper recesses of religious wars. I remember being puzzled in The Hague by a building in, I think, Oude Molstraat, that had what were obviously stained glass windows behind a set of clear outer windows which turned out to be a Catholic Church which, even in these more tolerant days wanted to keep a low profile, though the Catholic Church is actually nominally the largest denomination in the country as a whole.

With the promise of whimsy in the rubric of my Title in mind, I wish to throw in an eighteenth possibility to the list of seventeen possibilities suggested at the link above, which is that, instead of Flanders going it alone, it should join the United Kingdom.

And why not?

We may well see Scotland slope off to some sort of shadow existence as a statelet to our North. Some opine that this would be a good thing for that which is left, for Scotland is palpably a drag on the rest of our economy and costs Englishmen dear, given the enormous subventions to which handout-junkie Scotland has become so addicted as it seeks to feather-bed its citizens without having to go through the pain of actually paying for all the goodies they get.

Whimsy?

With a population of six million, Flanders definitely punches above its weight economically, with a GDP of some $ 232 billion in 2004 (approx. US$ 38,000 per capita) compared with Scotland’s five million who may have produced a GDP of US$ 172 billion in 2006 at US$ 33,000 per capita. Losing Scotland would be a boon, gaining Flanders a veritible shot in the arm. Their industries would make a good match for our own and there exist excellent communications with Flanders via our East Coast ports and Antwerp. They are conservative in inclination with an enthusiasm for the free market and capitalism which would not be difficult to harness as support for the Anglo-Saxon model. Much of their country resembles parts of East Anglia and as for the language thing, well, we are well used to the problem now with our Celts, so that can be accommodated and, in any event, Flemings speak English with a facility that is going to put some of our educationally-challenged citizens at a disadvantage. Their distaste for and experience of the dead hand of Socialism in Wallonia would surely put the wind up Labour who might see their ability to win a majority in the United Kingdom Of Great Britain, Flanders and Northern Ireland disappear completely.

Brussels, which may or may not be in the newly configured Flanders, is just three hours by train from here in Kettering yet Edinburgh is six hours by train or car. The King of the Belgians is a scion of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as is HM The Queen (Leopold I, first King of the Belgians, fixed it for Queen Victoria to marry his nephew Prince Albert), so swapping Monarchs would not involve too many mental gymnastics and we could then take the opportunity to divest ourselves of the slightly contentious requirement that our Monarchs not marry Catholics. England and Belgium share a taste for good beer (I read one commentator being very rude about Belgian beer the other day: plainly he has never undergone the sublime experience of an Orval, a Chimay, a Westmalle Tripel, a Hoegaarden or a Duvel) and hearty good food.

I strongly suspect that Flemings would get on with us rather better than do the Scots. That is perhaps not difficult as these days the Scots seem to hate the English: I once sat in a bar in The Hague watching the Calcutta Cup. The Scots patrons that day were clearly respectable middle-class types (often working with Shell), yet some of their remarks about the English would have got me arrested and banged up for a year and more had I said the same of West Indians or Muslims, so racist were they.

One fly in the ointment would be their view of continued membership of the EU. Belgium is notorious for its slavish adherence to the EU, but one wonders whether that has not been as an antidote to the fissiparous tendencies of its entities as much as anything and more a thing of the political elite and the socialist, corporatist, centralist Wallonia. As conservatives and capitalists they might be persuaded that the EU was a drag on their newly won freedom (and they would, I envisage, have a high degree of autonomy in the United Kingdom) and be looking for the new opportunities that their marriage with us would engender. For the UK it could bring endless opportunities to keep a foot on the continent whilst allowing us all to unshackle ourselves from the EU yoke and leave behind that 1950s behemoth the better to compete with the huge eastern economies that are going to dominate the middle of the 21st. Century.

It is not as if we have nothing to do with Belgium before. Hundreds of thousands of our young men have died in Flanders in several wars: Oudenaarde, Ypres, Gheluvelt, Nonne Bosschen, Poelcappelle, Passchendaele, Bellewarde, Broodseinde, Menin Road, Dyle, Antwerp-Turnhout Canal,Withdrawal to Escaut, Defence of Escaut all feature in the Battle Honours of the few regiments that remain to us. We went to war in 1914 in defence of Belgium and the Treaty obligations we had undertaken towards her by the Treaty of London 1839 and our armies spent four long years marooned in the south west corner of Flanders slugging it out with the Germans. Twice more, in 1940 and 1944, British troops acted to defend and then liberate Belgium from German aggression and occupation, so there is already a large, if silent, English presence in Flanders.

Of course there would be the small matter of cricket and rugby….

Oh well, it is whimsy…….isn’t it?

I also have a cunning plan for the former English holdings in France, but that is another story.

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