Fintan O’Toole: A banal moment in Brussels is a black joke on Ireland

The departure of the last UK member of the EU commission has poignancy for Ireland

Unless something dramatic happens in the UK election, Julian King will be the last British member of the EU Commission. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty

Unless something dramatic happens in the UK election, Julian King will be the last British member of the EU Commission. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty

On Friday, a very ordinary thing happened. A man packed up his stuff, closed the door and left his office for good. There was no ceremony to mark the big moment. It was like Bruegel’s great painting of the fall of Icarus where, in the foreground, people are going about their mundane business and you have to look very hard to see the boy just about to disappear beneath the waves. As the poet William Carlos Williams has it, “unsignificantly/ off the coast/ there was/ a splash quite unnoticed/this was/ Icarus drowning”. The man is called Julian King. Unless something dramatic happens in the UK election, he will be the last British member of the EU Commission. And from an Irish perspective, his departure has a peculiar poignancy.

This is not an epic retreat from empire, just a wilfully foolish retreat from influence

The Guardian got a photograph of King preparing to leave. Behind him are the last objects ready to be carried away from the Berlaymont building in Brussels: two bankers’ boxes sealed with duct tape; a Union Jack cushion and two wrapped-up pictures. One of them, you can just about see through the bubble wrap, is a portrait of the Queen.

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