Understandably, as described in his latest Daily Telegraph article, Boris spent some time pondering what to say to Pope Benedict, and he meditated for two days over his options. It would have been a good idea to talk to the Pope in Latin, because that would have knocked on the head any more sniping about us being a Third World country.
When faced with the Pope, Boris describes his feelings of inadequacy thus: I felt like a woad-painted savage suddenly confronted by an effulgent vision from Rome, and called upon to explain the religious back-sliding of the tribe. We went up from the tarmac into the Royal Suite, and after a procession of cardinals had said goodnight to the Pontiff, and after some opening pleasantries about Alitalia in-flight cooking, I seized the moment to say something about the schism at the heart of the British relationship with Rome.
“It all goes back to 410,” I said, when we were on the sofa. He looked tired but patient, like a tutor dealing with an especially obtuse and excitable pupil. I didn’t mean 10 past four, I didn’t mean teatime, I gabbled on. I meant 410 AD, the year the emperor Honorius announced that Britain could no longer be protected by the legions – the year we were effectively cut off from the empire. It was that fifth- century crisis, I blurted, that plunged us back into darkness and paganism. Britain was the only significant Roman province to be completely abandoned, after hundreds of years, to non-Christian barbarians.
No wonder we had a complex. No wonder we had always been divided in our feelings towards continental Europe. We had a deep childhood sense of rejection. It may have been just my paranoia, but I had a feeling the Pope stole a glance towards the door; and sure enough, someone was there to say that the cavalcade was ready to take him into town. “Very interesting,” he said kindly as we said goodbye, and I am naturally proud to have given His Holiness the opening paragraphs of my thesis, explaining as it does everything from Henry VIII to Euroscepticism and the general British ambivalence towards any gret continental power, religious or political.
Obviously well aware of Boris’s reputation as a genius and heavy thinker, the Pope thought it best not to be drawn into any further debate with the cerebral, jokey little funster. A man of wisdom, clearly. Boris then sensibly talked about the congestion charge.