U.K. to the world: No dogs or Koreans (rapists OK!)

 By Fred Varcoe

The traditional image of your average embassy is that they are there to protect a country’s citizens. My traditional image is that embassies are there to help move the country they represent closer to the country that hosts them.

 

Access all areas (if you've got the money)

Access all areas (if you’ve got the money)

The traditional image is complete rubbish, of course. Embassies exist to glorify the country they represent, to push the policies of the government in power and to drum up business and money. Citizens in trouble hamper these ambitions and are usually treated as dog shit on one’s shoe.

Take the case of my friend R in Saudi Arabia. She unwisely got pregnant to a married man. OK, he wasn’t a Saudi but a good stoning was still a possible outcome.

I know, she thought, I’ll get the nice people at the British Embassy to help me.

Er, it’s not our kind of business, the embassy people said, meaning, of course, that unless you help the UK make lots of money, you are of little use to us, so why should we be of use to you.

Luckily, R’s father did make lots of money for the U.K., and after phoning the Foreign Office, the lackeys at the embassy in Jeddah got R home where she could have her baby.

The British Embassy describes its role like this:

“We develop and sustain the important and long-lasting relationship between the UK and Japan. This involves dealing with a wide range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to the UK and Japan.

“The British Embassy in Tokyo, together with the British Consulate-General in Osaka, represents the UK government in Japan. Our two offices work together to support the full range of British interests in Japan: international cooperation in support of our values and working to reduce conflict; building Britain’s prosperity through increased trade and investment in open markets; and supporting British nationals who visit and live in Japan through modern and efficient consular services.”

The bit about helping British citizens seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Recently, Britain’s ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens, made it clear that British embassies are more concerned with commercial benefits than British citizens, with business and political relationships rather than human relationships.

 

U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

In 2012, the British government introduced legislation that seriously penalises British citizens married to non-EU spouses. The Guardian quoted Home Secretary Teresa May as saying that British citizens can marry who they want, but “if they want to establish their family life in the UK, rather than overseas, then their spouse or partner must have a genuine attachment to the UK, be able to speak English, and integrate into our society, and they must not be a burden on the taxpayer. Families should be able to manage their own lives. If a British citizen or a person settled here cannot support their foreign spouse or partner they cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for them.”

Part of that seems reasonable, but does it seem fair?

Know this; earn this

My wife is Korean. We carried our earlier married life entirely in Japanese. The new rules require a reasonable level of English. She might have that now, but if we wanted to go to the U.K. halfway through our 15-year marriage, her level of English would not have been high enough and she would have been rejected on those grounds.

She is also required to have knowledge of life in the U.K., including useless facts such as: How many members does a jury have in Scotland/ Which daughter of Henry VIII was a devout Catholic and persecuted Protestants?/ In which year was the National Trust founded by three volunteers? Where is Europe’s longest dry ski slope situated?

My wife has been to the U.K. many times and even stayed with my mother for six weeks (when her English – but not her sanity – improved). She knows more about English life than someone who can remember that French people called Norman invaded in 1066 (and I only learned this week that the Normans were actually relocated Vikings). She can make shepherd’s pie, Yorkshire pudding, porridge and marmalade. She understands her British husband and where he’s from (although it often seems that he doesn’t). She didn’t need to speak English to understand this and she doesn’t need to know how many inches there are in a yard to understand British culture.

You can’t quantify a relationship!

Oh, but the British government is trying. Childless couples where one partner is British and the other non-EU must earn a minimum of £18,600 to be allowed to settle in the U.K. If you’ve got children, you have to earn more.

Auberon Waugh wrote in in Another Voice: “The whole language of politics is geared to treating anything as good which is conducive to general prosperity, anything as bad which is detrimental to it. Often one finds whole passages of political rhetoric … which assume that this pursuit of prosperity is the only and supreme Good.”

Oscar Wilde’s perspective is still definitive: “People nowadays know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

This is true of the British government and current ambassador to Tokyo Tim Hitchens doggedly follows the government line. Here’s his meandering and totally unconvincing response to my question concerning the restrictive and illogical new immigration rules for spouses of British citizens (who, like my wife, can also be parents to British citizens):

“We live in democratic societies and therefore need to respond to the pressures from our electorate and there are two different strong pressures that are operating in the U.K. at the moment. One is the need to achieve growth to pull out faster from our economic difficulties and the other is the need to control legal immigration. Those are two very powerful messages that come from the electorate and therefore one has to get the balance right between those two. It’ll mean that there are tough rules that are unpopular with certain people who want to come and which are very popular with the electorate and there are other moves which encourage businesses to work and to allow us to have more students coming, allowing a loosening of visa rules on Japanese businesses operating in the U.K. which some in the U.K. population may wish we didn’t do because that seems a bit loose to them, but our judgement is that … [garbled] … we keep on having an open economy and encouraging investment in the UK. So those are the two competing forces. I don’t think that this is an issue that is particular to Britain and I think this is exactly the same debate that you would get if you were trying to get into France, if you were trying to get into the United States or if you were trying to get into Japan, and it will always be one of the hardest issues to respond to because everyone will have a personal vested interest in the particulars of the policy and moving it back to the democratic legitimacy of the policy is a painful thing for that person to do. So that’s my honest response at the general level but it won’t satisfy you on a personal level because these are tough rules.”

It won’t satisfy me on a personal level because it’s a rubbish answer and if it’s really a policy, it’s a rubbish policy.

It’s the economy, stupid

First of all, the electorate in Britain is demanding an end to uncontrolled immigration. I’m sure the ambassador would say that immigration is controlled. Yes, there are rules, as we can see from the above, but they are haphazard at best.

Why do people want to control immigration? Is it about economics and jobs? Partly. British people see foreigners coming to Britain and finding jobs when the native population can’t, but of course in part the incoming foreigners are plugging a gap in the job market (as well as undercutting the rates of their British competitors). So, there may be an economic argument for both allowing them in and keeping them out.

But is there an emotional one? The main problem with immigration is that many people don’t want to live alongside people from other cultures. This is not universally true, but in Britain it’s hard enough for a northerner to settle in the south, let alone alongside a Korean or a Pole or a Bangladeshi. The history of India demonstrates that. The Indians were united in their desire to get rid of the British and divided in their approach to independence, which resulted in three imperfect countries (invariably at each other’s throats) instead of one. Point me to a country where immigration has benefitted the integrity and culture of a country (and no, the USA is not the right answer). Accepting outsiders is hard for most people. It’s not impossible; just hard. The British government seems to think that if you earn £18,600 and know why Hastings is pertinent to British history, it’s easy.

Quantify. Quantify. Hitchens went on to talk about the EU but to him – representative of the government of David Cameron (oh, and Corporal Clegg) – it again came back to how much the EU can do for Britain’s business:

“The single market is the key reason that Japanese investors want to be in the UK and I personally find it difficult under any circumstance to imagine any government wanting to take the UK out of the single market.”

 

Please don't leave us, rich Japanese company

Please don’t leave us, rich Japanese company

The problem is not one of a single market; it’s one of a single culture. The EU is trying to homogenize an amazingly diverse and culturally rich continent. As with politics, culture is largely local. Countries and their culture evolve from small communities. The EU’s attempts at a form of affirmative action and the undermining of national interests is going to tear countries – and the continent – apart. David Cameron says if the Conservative get in with a clear majority at the next election, he will put forward a yes/no referendum on EU membership two years later. That’s nearly four years away. He’s trying to dodge the issue. Britain should have had a referendum way before this. You will remember that Britain did have a referendum on entering the forerunner to the EU, the Common Market. The people of Britain said yes – to joining a small economic community in Western Europe, not to a monolithic, federalised pseudo-state.

Citizens of 28 countries can walk into my country, find a job, claim benefits and even get housing from the state. Nobody asked the citizens of my country if this was a good idea. Meanwhile, my wife of 15 years, has to jump through hoops to stay in Britain and be a mother to my 5-year-old daughter if I choose to go back home. The British government seems to think that Britain needs operate at maximum commercial capacity to survive in the modern world. Britishness, it seems, is something it can sacrifice on the altar of commerce.

Why should I have fewer rights to a family life in the U.K. than a couple from France or Slovakia? Why should a non-EU criminal have the right to a family life but not me (see here for one example of many: http://tinyurl.com/6ajkvx5). I married a woman I loved, but she’s not of sufficient commercial value to the country I was born in to allow her to reside there.

I wish I could rediscover the country I was born in, but it’s not there anymore.

 


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