Friday, 1 March 2019

Breexit: how the Remainers left the Leavers high and dry

Philologus thought he would write something light-hearted about Tolkien’s world for a change.

The month of Rethe was passing, and the seventh of Chithing -- the day appointed for Breeland to leave the Eriadorian Union -- was fast approaching. But proceedings at the Moot Hall in Staddle were deadlocked. It had only eight members, one each from the Big people and the Little People from each of the four villages. In the Folktelling, held two and a half years previously, most Hobbits had voted to remain, but nearly all the Big Folk supported Leave, and in the Moot four Big Mootmen and one Little Mootman supported the Leave agenda. The Folkmoot Foreman and leader of the pro-Breexit Mootfolk was a woman called Terebinthia Mayweed.

The Breexiteers of Breeland were full of resentment at what they called the ‘unelected Rangerocracy’ imposing laws on them from the Eriadorian Folkmoot in Fornost. ‘That Strider was just an ordinary bloke drinking beer in the Prancing Pony,’ they grumbled illogically, ‘and now he’s made himself king of Gondor and Arnor and drinks wine out of a great gold goblet in Minas Tirith.’ Their other complaint was at the numbers of Southerners coming north and settling in the empty lands around Bree. ‘They ain’t like us. They don’t look right and they don’t talk proper, and they’re taking away our jobs.’ Even Hob and Nob complained, despite the fact that they needed the help of the Southerner barman and groom to cope with greatly increased business at the Prancing Pony.

At the bottom of the whole conspiracy, of course, was Bill Ferney. He’d been pardoned by King Elessar, and almost at once he’d founded a movement, the Breeland Independence Party, or BLIP, and got himself elected as Member for the Breeland of the Eriadorian Folkmoot. He’d posed with a large placard on the side of a haywain in each of the four villages, proclaiming that the money paid to the Eriadorian Union could be better spent on the Breeland Houses of Healing, though it was said that he was secretly trying to buy all four Houses and run them as a business. His most successful ploy was to spread a rumour that King Elessar was planning to allow Khand and Umbar to join the Union. ‘We shall be inundated with Corsairs and Variags!’ he warned, and that frightened even some of the usually sensible Hobbits into voting Leave.

Terebinthia Mayweed was riding to and from Fornost every week. She was trying to get a better leaving deal from the Eriadorian Council. No matter that they simply read to her from the Scroll of the Treaty of Minas Tirith on which the rules of the Union were based. She did the rounds of all the national leaders -- Arnorians, Gondorians, Ithilien-dwellers, Rohirrim, Dunlendings, Beornings, Dalemen -- but they all maintained the Eriadorian line. She had even tried to arrange a summit with the Ents, which was pointless, since a Fangorn Plus solution had been ruled out ages ago.

The real sticking-point was, of course, the Shire. And specifically, the Shirish Border. There had never been a hard border between the Shire and the Breeland, and after Breexit smuggling would obviously be rife. The Brandywine Bridge was the only place that was watched, and that was mostly for people coming into the Shire. It would be easy to convey goods secretly out of the Shire via Buckland, through the Old Forest, over the Barrow Downs, and into Bree.

Buckland was the key, and Terebinthia Mayweed’s solution was known as the Buckstop, or the Shirish Buckstop. (Some witty Hobbits joked about the buck stopping there.) It was proposed that a hard border would not be necessary, since up-to-date surveillance could be employed. And what was this surveillance? Old Man Willow, it was revealed. He had a network throughout the Forest which no intruder could evade. And if that did not work, it was quite possible that Tom Bombadil could be induced to sing smugglers straight out of his domain. Extremists suggested that the barrow-wights would make excellent border guards.

All these plans were academic, since Mrs Mayweed’s Breexit plan had been rejected in the Folkmoot. The four Hobbits and one hard-Breexit Big Person, whose name was Giacomo Reed-Mugwort, had voted against it. But the three Hobbit Remain-supporting members had no majority to reverse Breexit, so there was stalemate. If Breeland crashed out of Eriador without a deal, it was predicted, the Greenway would be choked with carts and waggons for miles. Food and drink would run low. Of all the new trade deals that needed to be struck, only one had been made, with the Drúedain, ‘and what use was that likely to be?’, people asked. All the Dwarf realms had turned their backs -- they had perfectly good deals with Eriador already. Same with Rivendell and Lórien. No hope of emergency supplies of lembas, or even cram. Voices in all four villages began calling for a second Folktelling, but Mrs Mayweed rejected that out of hand.

Meanwhile, relations between the pro-Remain Little Folk, nicknamed ‘Nixer-Breexers’ by their opponents, and the pro-Leave Big Folk, now opprobriously labelled ‘Sharkey’s Men’, were becoming sour. A public demonstration demanding a second Folktelling turned into a standoff with Sharkey’s Men, who came out armed with sticks and staves. As it happened, that very day the Thain of Tookland and the Master of Buckland were having a quiet drink at the Prancing Pony. They stepped into the midst of the fray and announced that the region of Westmarch had just been added to the Shire, and that there were plenty of smials available, for Hobbits only of course, in this new Men-free enterprise zone.

Very soon afterwards, the best part of the Hobbit population of Staddle, Combe, Archet, and Bree (hence known to their critics as SCABs), packed up their tools and households, loaded their ponies and carts, and set off on their week-long trek to the new territory. It was soon evident that almost every productive trade — spinning, weaving, carpentry, baking, brewing, and even blacksmithing — had been in the hands of the Hobbit population. With them gone, Breeland was economically devastated. As some local wit observed, the place was stripped so bare it had nothing left but the breeks it stood up in. And that is how the Remainers left and the Leavers remained and got rather less than they bargained for.

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