Ed Lines

IN A couple of hours I'll be driving from the outskirts of Brussels to Ypres, the site of arguably the first great act of political human sacrifice in what is often called, without a hint of irony, 'the Great War'.

Great? Only if the point of the exercise was creating jobs at home by killing your men abroad.

Compared to some of the idiotic massacres the British, French and German upper classes (among others) subjected their servile menfolk to, the first battle of Ypres was pretty small beer; 58,000 various allied casualties, 46,000 German.

That was the autumn of 1914 when both sides were first refining the art of genocide; another 100,000 went in the following spring in the second battle of Ypres.

By the time we had the battle of the Somme – centenary upcoming this summer – they had it down pat. Around a million men killed or wounded. Damn, but they learned fast, those brandy-sodden generals, didn't they?

And of course today, one of the most emotive arguments around the 'Remain/Leave' EU campaigns, is that idea that the European Union has somehow cemented continental safety single-handedly. It's a risible piece of posturing given that the EU began not as a security blanket (we have NATO for that) but as a trading organisation.

And just as a brief aside, how do you think the under 18s of the UK would react today if David Cameron told them to march off and die for the Imperial cause, because their 'betters' wanted them to?

The 'target' teenage conscription audience (pun intended) couldn't be arsed getting out of bed anyway. The officer (university) class supposed to lead them would tell Cameron and Co where to get off, and the only under 18s obeying the order to wage 'holy war' to order would be doing it against us anyway!

Can you see Savile Town and Mount Pleasant's young men taking the pledge and serving in the British army because the government said so? I think they'd be asking for civil war, not civil defence.

So no, Europe's youth will never again march off to massacre each other as in generations past, whether we have an EU or not. Couldn't happen.

I'm in Belgium with 15 journalists from Belgium, France, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Ireland, Portugal and Russia.

I left home at 11.15am on Sunday, drove straight onto the shuttle at Folkestone and 30 minutes later was on a motorway heading out of Calais. I was in my hotel by 6pm.

How good is that? Beats driving to an airport, stripping naked, waiting two hours and paying £80 to check in my golf bats into a cocked hat. I'll be back, no doubt.

And how much of a shame would it be if we lost it by voting Brexit?

Except of course we won't, unless you pay any attention to David Cameron's scaremongers.

At dinner on Sunday night, I prompted the subject of the upcoming British vote. I honestly hadn't a clue what to expect back.

The exclusive view was that everyone wanted the UK to remain, without initial exception until we got into the detail.

When I was asked how I would vote and I said 'Leave', my friends Roland and Marie Machenaud, from the French Basque region (their nephew Maxime is the France and Racing 92 rugby union scrum half), looked horrified. You'd have thought I'd said we couldn't talk any more.

I explained. I have great European friends, I love European countries and culture, but I believe the UK should have a sovereign government and it doesn't.

I don't care about being a few quid better or worse off, although I have confidence we will soon be stronger, and I'm not that beat up about immigration so long as we can impose reasonable controls – but I believe we should have our own sovereignty.

And I don't see why we can't trade together, travel easily between each other's countries, and still be great friends. But cousins, not forced step brothers and sisters made to live in a madhouse run by people none of us know. Faceless people who are hell-bent on keeping us locked up with fewer and fewer freedoms every passing year.

My view opened quite a surprising floodgate from those trans-Europeans, many of whom I've known for nigh on 20 years.

Firstly, Roland and Marie, who being deep in the south-west near Spain aren't even keen on Parisiens, let alone eastern Europeans. They nodded and Roland added, “But what can you do? We have no choice? This EU is not what we wanted, but if Britain leaves it will cost us all more! And if the Turks are allowed in, we're leaving anyway – Marie has an American passport and our children are already there!”

Rens ten Brink, from Holland, summed up the Dutch position. “Our government will do nothing but hopefully if Britain leaves, we will get a vote because this is not what any of us thought we were getting.”

After some thought Rens added: “We need a Neuro – a Northern European Union. It should never have gone more than Germany, France, UK, Holland (and Belgium/Luxembourg). The new countries just bring trouble and want money – why else would they join?”

A Dutch colleague added: “The more the Union is spread, the less authority the politicians have, the more the Commission (the unelected commissars who run the EU in Brussels) can manipulate things to build their empire. Like all empires, it stinks and is corrupt. But what can you do?”

What indeed? And of course they are all tied into the Euro.

Wieland Wagner is a German journalist from near Munich who spends half his life running a business in Portugal. “Merkel (Angela, German chancellor) is finished,” he shrugged. “Her open border policy was a disaster. You can keep a million people out of your borders a lot more easily than you can send them home.”

Interestingly, Wieland added this: “The Euro (single currency) will tear the EU apart because it was a stupid idea dreamed up by politicians and bureaucrats, not businessmen and economists. Greece is bankrupt, Spain and Portugal are not much better, Italy's debt is ridiculous and France won't admit how much trouble it is in. It is only a matter of time.”

Wieland hoped the UK would vote to stay if only to help keep the EU economy on an even keel … for now.

Svetlana, a Moscow publisher who drives a Bentley, has botoxed lips and pneumatic breasts, just wishes the western sanctions would bugger off and thinks Vladimir Putin is wildly misunderstood. Moving on...

Anne from Ireland was worried what would happen to Irish/UK trade (nothing) and could see barbed wire going up between Ulster and the south. Really? And as another irish golf journalist said to me, “when we (Eire) got in the EU they gave us millions to improve our golf courses and build new clubhouse under development grants!”

Indeed they did. And around two-thirds of Irish agricultural income is still EU subsidies. As in your money, because we subsidise those 'poor' Irish.

Did I mention golf? I'm visiting some beautiful clubs around Brussels as a guest of a local hotel group trying to build tourism which has died a death (again, pub intended) since the recent Paris and Brussells terrorism attacks.

A large proportion of these golf clubs' members work in the ultra-EU establishment a half hour away. I wasn't too surprised to hear that most of them were built in the last 15-25 years with no expense spared, on former green belt and farmland. When I asked who funded them all, I just received a lot of knowing smiles and shrugs...

Do you know what that means? You paid for them.

I'M QUITE badly regarded (I count it as a compliment) for not holding British journalists in very high esteem.

I know some great ones, a plague of indifferent ones, and too many that I wouldn't give a job delivering my papers. I'm sure the feeling's mostly mutual.

However being in Brussels this week, I couldn't in any good conscience just sit by the beautiful Lake Genval, accept hospitality, whack a golf ball and pretend we weren't here to paper over the cracks of the recent terrorist massacres.

On Monday we had a free evening. My colleagues went to eat Italian food by the lake (and I was delighted to hear it was a high price and low quality). Unsurprisingly, no one wanted to come with me into Brussels, to both see this beautiful old city and go visit Molenbeek, the Muslim quarter where Paris/Brussels terror mastermind Salah Abdeslam and his suicidal pals were variously arrested, gunned down or began their adventure.

Brussels is gorgeous – please, go visit. Molenbeek? I could take you to 20 London boroughs where you would feel far more endangered. Massively.

I never saw a single niqab. I asked a few locals for directions (even though I knew where I was). Polite, courteous, even attempting English despite me using French. I got better food for 4 euros than my colleagues got for 40.

But of course that's the secret that the media never bother explaining – the trouble exists behind closed doors, not on the streets. But I'd walk round Molenbeek any night, rather than some places far closer to home.

APPARENTLY Leicester City have won the Premier League.

No, really. Can I tell you how I know? Despite being overseas, I have seen it on every BBC news bulletin for 72 hours. Not only on the hour, but on the half hour. With repeating scrolling banner under the screen for good measure.

I'm sure the BBC probably put out a special version in braille too, just in case people like me had had enough and both clawed out their eyeballs and stuck knitting needles in their eardrums.

Even international CNN has been screaming with frantic repetition that Leicester have created the sporting upset of all time (and I'm far from convinced of that by the way).

I've started dreaming in blue. In fact, I admit that I have occasionally (since my teens) had luridly exciting dreams about 'foxes' – but not until now nightmares about said foxes adorning cheap polyester football scarves which also boasted 'Champions 2015/16'.

Can I say that I'm delighted for Leicester in the way that I cheered when Sheffield Eagles beat mighty Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup Final and, even more, when Dewsbury defeated Leeds in the 1973 Rugby League Championship. Who doesn't love an underdog?

But in 2016, wall-to-wall bullshine? Isn't there any real news in the world?

The BBC took up residence in a Leicester pub, the Local Hero, and insulted the English speaking world's intelligence for nearly three days.

“So Tracey and Darren, I hear that you first dated after getting on the same bus outside the Leicester training field? How special is this for you today?”

We almost (although I might actually have missed it) got to: “So, Jasmina and Jayden, I understand that you never got to go to a Leicester game because your single mums never worked and their benefits couldn't stretch to both bingo AND a season ticket. Do you feel traumatised by having missed out on this special moment...?”

As I understand the teenage social media vernacular would have it: FFS...

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