Andrew Pak Man Shuen is a co-founder of the Lion Rock Institute, the Hong Kong free market think tank, and a columnist for Apple Daily, a popular Hong Kong newspaper.
“Loathsome creature” – that was the term hurled at President Obama by Nigel Farage, when he intervened with his views on the issue of Brexit. The issue may divide many across these fair isles, but one thing that has always united the British is the disdain for the sight of ‘Johnny Foreigner’ intervening in the democratic process.
This piece is not an attempt to do so – lest I morph into said creature – but rather is an attempt to share a perspective which is unique to non-EU nationals here in Britain.
As a foreigner and a former subject of the Queen, born in Hong Kong, I have been subjected to the claims in the mainstream British press that all Brexiteers are ‘racists’, ‘xenophobes’, et cetera. It is an imagined picture of a purely white mob gathered on the cliffs of Dover, ready to fire arrows from longbows at the incoming hordes.
At risk of sounding like the opening to that most corniest of jokes, there are Indians, Americans, Singaporeans, Kenyans and New Zealanders, men and women of all races, gathered together – if not in support of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union, then at the very least bewildered by the idea of your continued membership. These gatherings not only happen every day, but happen right here all across the United Kingdom, in places where the British do not tread.
If you are British, especially if you are pro-Brexit, you might perhaps be dumbfounded right now. Where are these meetings of fervent foreign Brexiteers, you ask?
These gatherings can be found at the immigration checkpoints for non-EU nationals in every major UK international airport. Or, more specifically, in the queues in front of those desks. It is a tragic sight, which I have personally observed, and for those EU nationals entering the UK with non-EU nationals the wait is an eternity. British immigration officers assume the role of Saint Peter, guarding the entrance to Heaven against the undeserving horde.
Yet when we queue up, many of us with kith and kin here, we look over as those EU citizens – many of them with a far weaker command of the language of Shakespeare – waltz in with nary a complaint from those same officers wearing the same uniform.
If there is one image of the British, it is that you are people who are at least optically just. You are seen to be equal in treatment. Why are we subjected to not just the painfully long waiting time, but the cross interrogation that comes at the end of it, while those that are equally undeserving to enter heaven get to do so with so much more ease? Why did the British commit to a constitutional arrangement, membership of the EU, that is a living insult to that most British of values?
Of course, I am sure that many of you who are reading this suspect that we are cheering for Brexit because we are hoping it will result in an easier time entering the UK. If not for a chance to stay and work, the at least to leave a slightly less bitter aftertaste from the passport counter interrogation, where all one wants is to eat a little fish and chips, and visit one’s own national treasures ‘kept safe’ at the British Museum. If that is how you think, then you are wrong.
We are merely foreigners, not stupid nor delusional. Even with Britain’s exit from the EU, we do not harbour any hopes for an easier time getting in. What we want is simple justice. To have the British stick it to the EU nationals, too, for them to experience that very British hospitality at the moment of landing.
So fear not, my pro-Brexit British friends. You have many cheering you on around the world, and, on this matter, you do not stand alone.