Keeping Kiwis in a holding pattern
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s reported comment early in his whirlwind New Zealand visit on Monday that a hongi ‘‘might be misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow’’ will not have surprised anyone to any great degree.
Indeed, it’s the sort of comment most of us probably expected of the former journalist often referred to as ‘‘bumbling Boris’’, and any perceived cultural insensitivity should, to be fair, be viewed in context.
Having been welcomed onto Kaikoura’s Takahanga Marae, he offered his thanks for having been taught the hongi, ‘‘which I think is a beautiful form of introduction’’.
In the unlikely event any Kiwis were hanging onto his every word, though, the things they might have been most interested to hear about were New Zealand’s trade prospects with a post-Brexit Britain, and the future of the great OE, a traditional rite of passage into the serious business of adulthood for so many young Kiwis.
On both, Johnson has been reasonably encouraging, if a little light on detail.
He said on Monday he supported easy migration between Commonwealth countries and the United Kingdom.
‘‘There are lots of young New Zealanders who want to come to the UK for their OE and that’s a great thing - we’re trying to make sure that happens as smoothly as possible,’’ he said, adding he wanted to ensure ‘‘talented people, energetic people’’ who wanted to spend time in Britain would be able to do so.
Which is great, but the questions came against a background of Kiwis struggling to have applications for working holiday visas processed in time, a development ironically believed to have followed the move of the processing centre from Manila, in the Philippines, to Sheffield.
As encouraging as Johnson’s stated intention of creating a visa class for citizens of Commonwealth countries is, it’s something that won’t happen until the Brexit process is complete and, viewed from our admittedly geographically distant location, it looks set to be a process that could drag on interminably.
That tortuous process will also, naturally, feed into trade prospects. Johnson, naturally, lauded New Zealand’s existing relationship with Britain, saying ‘‘we want to build on that’’.
However, another comment reported on his Kaikoura visit seemed like less than a ringing endorsement.
‘‘We’re having to strengthen our trading relations around the world and not just with our friends and partners in Europe, but with New Zealand as well,’’ he said.
It may be a case of reading too much into his comments, but Johnson certainly couldn’t be said to have been falling over himself to guarantee us anything.
Which suggests the visit’s major purpose was to keep us in an expectant holding pattern until Brexit has run its meandering course.