The TasTe Of RegReT
What does UK’s exit from the EU mean for London’s reputation as the world’s gourmet capital? The answer, as always, lies with the people
BUT WHY,” asked the very nice lady at Immigration at Heathrow, “would you not take a British passport if you were born in London?” I am used to the question by now, so I gave my standard reply about being a proud Indian and that despite the undoubted advantage a Brit passport offered a frequent visitor (you don’t need visas for most countries), I was very happy with my Indian passport.
But of course, the UK I remember is very different from today’s UK. When I was born, the Commonwealth was The Big Thing. Commonwealth citizens didn’t need visas and it was brown people who made the National Health Service possible and West Indians who ran the buses, tubes and trains. Over the decades the Commonwealth contribution to the UK’s cultural life pretty much transformed the country. The West Indians gave the Brits reggae and we gave them Bhangra and Bollywood. was all about. They came with nothing, set up little corner shops, worked 18-hour days and today hundreds of them are millionaires: a triumph of Gujarati and Punjabi enterprise. But by the early Seventies, the UK had a new obsession. After having been kicked around by Charles de Gaulle for years, Britain was finally allowed into the EEC or the European Economic Community, a common market. The old “Commonwealth Passports” queues disappeared at Heathrow. Europeans (nearly all of them white and many, blonde and blue-eyed) were told they could just walk through the immigration counters. We, on the other hand, were told to get visas, a process that still can take weeks.
The British voted to stay in the EEC in 1975 but soon the Common Market gave way to a quasipolitical structure called the European Union and any European was guaranteed right of residence, employment, benefits etc in the UK.
The old Commonwealth guys who had helped construct post-War Britain were told that they were still welcome to stay (“we are a multi-cultural society”) but could they please ask their relatives and friends to stay at home in Dhaka or Delhi or Nairobi or wherever. (If however they had White relatives in Sydney or Montreal, “well then, old boy, we shall certainly do our best to help bring them over.”)
So why did Britain fall out of love with the Commonwealth (except for the Queen, who, God bless her, still loves the Commonwealth) and rush into bed with Europe?
Well, I guess we had outlived our usefulness. Europe made economic sense. (Or not, depending on which side you chose to believe during the referendum debate.) White people were easier to absorb into British society. And, I suspect, the UK establishment could never reconcile itself to Britain’s post-Empire role as just another small island of no great consequence. Being part of Europe made them feel