Yoghurts, marmite and brexit: it must not come down to immigration

by georgehep

I worry about Rachel. Does she really stir all those yoghurts herself? Is she exempt from the European Working Hours Directive?  I also wonder why Yeo Valley has such good dairy pasture and whether anyone is looking after the welfare of those over worked cows. We have a penchant for products that are personalised and localised.

But l no longer worry about the workload of those cheery ice cream makers, Ben and Jerry, who, I learned last week, sold out to Unilever, an Anglo Dutch conglomerate, which supplies a vast range of my daily fare, from tea bags, pot noodles, soap and, of course, marmite. I imagine all these goods spew forth from one gigantic factory somewhere near Shirebrook.

Unilever apologised to us that “the brands we love” were temporarily unavailable while they fought the marmite wars with Tesco. I see that the Queen likes marmite lightly spread on toast topped with mushrooms, but would not say my affections are that strong towards the yeast extract spread.  Is this what we have come to, I asked in a moment of despair? The price of Brexit is the loss of marmite?

It may have been a storm in a tea cup but a 20% drop in the value of the pound is widely  expected to lead to increases in milk, bread, petrol, wine at the rate of the 10% increase that Unilever sought from the supermarkets. When basic food prices rise, the poor suffer most.

At about the same time, Carlos Ghosn was threatening to halt investment in the Sunderland plant because he would face a 10% tariff when exporting cars to Europe, which is where   80% of the cars are sold. He was hastily summoned to Downing Street to be reassured though what Theresa May told him is not known. This may be more huff and puff from a  business leader but I wonder why a company jointly owned by the French would stay in the United Kingdom if the terms of trade turn against it?

Has it come to this? Nissan is our pride and joy. The single largest industrial relocation to the region in the last fifty years sustaining an estimated 100,000 jobs may be run down because of Brexit?

When the people of Sunderland voted in surprisingly large numbers to leave the European Union, did they think that their vote would lead to a rise in the price of bread and the loss of well paid jobs? I have argued here previously that the vote to stay or go should not be made on economic grounds alone. In my view, European co operation is important for dealing with the really big issues of climate change and migration and that the European Union, for all its faults, is a force for good.

Now that ‘the people have spoken’, any such thoughts are derided as coming from the mouths of the educated liberal intelligentsia which is out of touch with reality.  It is a struggle for so called ‘Remoaners’ to make the case for working with Europe and difficult to remember that 48% of us did not want to leave.

It is especially difficult after a Conservative party conference at which Theresa May made it admirably clear that her top priority was to regain control of the borders and stop the flow of migrant workers from Europe. The scales tipped further in favour of leaving at any price.

It is astute politics on Mrs May’s part. She will get short change from  Donald Tusk so there is not much point in trying to negotiate terms. She will risk dividing her party again unless she takes a hard line. She will throw a lifeline to UKIP unless she tackles immigration before the next election. This is not to be the time for parliamentary scrutiny or public debate. There is really only one way to Brexit and Theresa May knows she must force it through as her survival depends upon it.

So it really does come down to this: we dislike foreigners so much that we cast aside all other considerations in order to clamp down on immigration as we shut the door on Europe. The single market is neither here nor there. Hate crimes are on the rise and xenophobia is unbridled.

This is still a phoney war that will last another two years. In that time, it is really important that those of us of a different mind, however we voted on 23rd June, say loud and clear that people from other lands make an inspirational contribution to the cultural and academic life of our country; that foreign workers are the life blood of the NHS  and that refugees fleeing from violence and famine must be embraced with open arms. Neighbours and friends from different faiths and backgrounds enrich our lives. We laugh together and learn more from each other than we ever could on our own. We are proudly called to be ‘citizens of the world’ whatever Theresa May might say.

It must not come to this: our future must not be determined by our anxieties, insecurities and fear of the unknown.

Published in Newcastle Journal on 18th October 2016