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.

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