An independent, sovereign UK sounded like a great idea for the British voters who opted to leave the European Union in a June referendum. Finally, Brussels would get out of their hair. It’s about time silly foreigners stopped telling them what to do. England for the English, at long last!
Now that the pound has crashed to a 168-year low on reports of a “hard Brexit” that may put the entire country’s financial stability at risk, Brits should be asking themselves, again: What the hell have we done? This delusion of autarky makes zero sense in a country that could never have made it this far in the world alone, in a nation that accumulated wealth, status, and power thanks to the exploitation of its colonies overseas, and in a state that continues to depend heavily on foreign labor, trade, capital, and culture.
“No man is an island,” wrote English poet John Donne, and while the UK, geographically speaking, is and island, it has never behaved as such—sometimes to a fault. English monarchs routinely married their French, Prussian, and Spanish relatives in efforts to keep the peace and encourage trade and cooperation. For centuries, the country governed distant corners of the world cruelly and coercively, and profited handsomely off forced labor and exploitation in India, Ghana, and Nigeria, to name just a few of its ex-colonies.
This wasn’t a good thing for the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was very good for Great Britain. So after decolonization, the UK did not withdraw from the world, nor force the world to pull out, either. The City of London built itself up as a global banking capital. Universities welcomed foreign students from all over the world who now run countries, courts, and companies. (It also gave the most cosmopolitan Ghaddafi son, Saif al Islam, a plagiarized PhD from the London School of Economics. Free exchange works both ways.) The football clubs are filled with players of every nationality. The nation even participates in Eurovision.
Unfortunately, the clear benefits of cultural exchange and political and economic interdependence didn’t stop people from voting the way they did last June. Nor did they prevent the cultural and social decline that’s mirroring the pound sterling’s. Last week, local and national authorities reportedly started barring foreign academics from advising on matters relating to leaving the EU. There’s a draft proposal for companies to list non-British workers publicly in what appears to be some sort of twisted naming and shaming exercise. A school is asking parents to notify faculty of “birthplace data” if their child isn’t a citizen. Women in labor might even be asked to show their passports before being admitted to hospital to give birth.
The UK, it seems, is doing everything it can to tell foreigners—even those who are usually protected from overt discrimination by their wealth, their class, and their education—that they are no longer welcome. All this despite the fact that the country needs to hire foreign-trade negotiators to actually carry out the Brexit, has appointed a US citizen and descendant of Turkish immigrants as foreign secretary, and has a Canadian guy from the Northwest territories running its central bank.
Back in 2013, the Bank of England imported Mark Carney, who also has an Irish passport, in part because they could not find a more qualified Englishman or woman to do the job. Carney pledged that he’d apply for British citizenship, but he won’t be eligible until the end of his term because of the residency requirement. He now has less than 90 days to decide whether to remain in his position until his term is up in 2021, or leave early.
In response to this absurd state of affairs and the treatment of other foreigners both rich and poor, Carney should pass up extending his tenure. In fact, he should go on strike along with any foreigners who can afford to. A day or two without foreign labor might teach Theresa May and her cabinet a thing or two about the value of a diverse workforce and force xenophobes to reconsider their position on how people from the EU and beyond can help Britain.
It’s instructive here to look to Poland—incidentally, a country whose citizens became the emblem of so-called foreign Europeans, accused of stealing native jobs—to see how powerful strikes can be. Last week, thousands of Polish women (and some men) ditched jobs, school, and housework to take to the streets dressed in black, expressing their dismay over a proposed law that would make abortions illegal and punish women and doctors with a prison sentences. The law began as a popular petition, then found support in the conservative Catholic parliament. Days after the strike, lawmakers abandoned the draft legislation.
Poland’s strike shows us that when a chunk of the population is marginalized, it can fight back, and successfully. Right now, the UK is marginalizing pregnant women, foreign academics, and anyone with a child born abroad. These expats, migrants, refugees, and immigrants should band together to send a message. And Mark Carney—whose job is suddenly much more difficult than he could have anticipated—is the perfect man to lead the way.
In 2001, the British foreign secretary Robin Cook declared that the true British national dish was not spotted dick or toad in the hole but chicken tikka masala—not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.
“Chicken tikka is an Indian dish,” he added. “The masala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.”
The UK is throwing it all away: baby, bathwater, masala, chicken. It’s time for some generous foreigners to show them the stakes by calling it quits, and save the British from themselves.
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