On moving to the UK almost a dozen years ago I quickly noticed that the one thing that unites the political establishment, left and right, is that they don’t like foreigners. Or rather, maybe better phrased, they may personally like and even admire some foreigners, but they recognise that such exotic tastes are not for everyone, and that disliking foreigners is a valuable national pastime, deserving of their official support.
And so, after claiming through the Brexit campaign that it was all about national sovereignty and repatriating billions of pounds for the NHS, and having spent the better part of two years diplomatically digging a grave for the national future, the Tories strike on bedrock: We have betrayed national sovereignty and destroyed the national economy, but it’s all worth it because we still get to kick out the foreigners. Or, in the prime minister’s words:
“Getting back full control of our borders is an issue of great importance to the British people,” she will say, adding that EU citizens will no longer be able to “jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi”.
I’m willing to go out on a limb here and suggest that the subset of British — or, given their current fragile mental state, I should perhaps call them Brittle — voters who voted Leave with the thought uppermost in their minds of improving the prospects for Indians to migrate to the UK was… less than a majority. But even more striking, EU citizens who moved to the UK over the past 40 years, following the same agreements that allowed Brittle people to seek work and better lives anywhere on the Continent, are retrospectively branded as “queue jumpers”, the most rebarbative class in the English moral order. Theresa May is summoning her countrymen and -women to defend a fantasy queue.
In the 1990s the German media teemed with entreaties to tear down the Mauer im Kopf, the “mental wall” (a phrase of the author Peter Schneider that actually long preceded the fall of the physical wall in Berlin), as a necessary prelude to a stable national identity, and a democratic and prosperous future. Maybe the Brittles need to dissolve their fantasy queues, to break up the Schlange im Kopf, before they can start building a new nation on the rubble they are making of their past.
A pretty universal anti-discrimination principle in the West has long been that companies should not discriminate against workers on the basis of their national origin. Everyone with a right to live and work in the country should compete on the same basis. But now the Conservatives are pushing the opposite view, proposing to force companies to publish the number of international staff, obviously in an effort to embarrass them into not hiring foreigners in the first place. (It is up to the government to decide how many foreigners get work permits; this is about putting pressure on companies not to employ those who the government has granted the right to be here.) Myself, my partner, my children — even the younger one who was born and has lived all her life in this country — should all be discriminated against in employment.
At least they are following their own advice. According to a new report
Leading foreign academics from the LSE acting as expert advisers to the UK government were told they would not be asked to contribute to government work and analysis on Brexit because they are not British nationals….
One of the group is understood to be a dual national, with citizenship of both the UK and another EU member state.
Obviously you can’t expect simple British civil servants to judge the value of advice from wily foreigners. British Beliefs are Best!
When I moved to Britain nine years ago I was immediately shocked by the xenophobic tone in the press, emanating from both major parties. Unlike other countries I have lived in, where universal problems of racism and xenophobia are balanced by a near-universal sense that it is the job of responsible politicians (and responsible journalists) to oppose these dark impulses, the major parties in Britain seem to compete with each other to show that they hate immigrants the most. Occasional platitudes about racial harmony are swamped by the need to publicly bash foreigners, supposedly because it would be irresponsible to let the foreigner-bashing be taken over by dangerous demagogues. I wrote then
I can’t figure out whether the UK is the most xenophobic country I’ve ever lived in, or whether it just acts like it. On the one hand, the UK has a well-deserved reputation as a sanctuary for the persecuted and would-be persecutors temporarily out of office. On the other hand, UK politicians, who (one presumes) know better, seem to cheer themselves up when they’re feeling blue by attacking immigrants, either directly or (more commonly) by insinuation. The same is true for pillars of society like the BBC.