Keep Calm, Drink Tea


Andrea Leadsom, who helped spearhead the Brexit Campaign, announced on 18th October a Five-Year post-Brexit plan to boost the British economy by almost £3 Billion through the export of British products.

What were her genius “British” products?

Tea, jam and biscuits.

Tea is from China and the best jam and biscuits tend to herald from France.  It’s not difficult to see why our Environment Secretary’s mention of tea invited many a joke and some serious ribbing on social media.

Yes, we Brits are renowned for our love of tea and there’s nothing more quintessentially British than indulging in afternoon tea. Yet Britain’s love affair with tea stems back to its days of Empire…the East India Company springs to mind and the Opium Wars that led to the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain in 1842.

Rewind to 19th Century England and its insatiable appetite for tea:

Our excessive imports from China led to a great trade imbalance; Britain had no exports that China needed and China demanded silver from Britain to quench its thirst.  The coffers were soon empty and we Brits had to come up with a solution…smuggling opium into China via the East India Group, turning drug dealer to balance the books.

China was already suffering internal fighting between its warlords and corrupt Qing officials.  It was referred to as the “poor man of Asia” and suffered humiliating defeat in its attempts to quash the opium trade.  Hong Kong Island was ceded in perpetuity to Britain in the 1842 Treaty of Nanking.  Kowloon soon followed in 1860 and then the surrounding areas known as the New Territories were leased to Britain in 1898 for 99 years.

These were the tumultuous events which were a direct consequence of Britain’s inability to match its ever-growing import of tea with a commodity equally valued by the Chinese, opium.

Fast forward to 21st Century Britain and the tables have turned. Hong Kong has been handed back to China and functions under a “One Country Two System” Basic Law whereby relative autonomy has been granted to the locals until 2047.

China wants to trade with everyone and we in Britain install Mandarin speaking personnel in retail outlets and fast track Chinese visas to ensure that the Chinese shop here in UK PLC.

I applaud Andrea Leadsom’s initiative but perhaps she could have chosen another quintessentially British item to lead her announcement on, rather than the very export which ignited the Opium Wars.

Leadsom’s ignorance of our own British history during these less than glorious imperialistic times merits the jokes and mocking on social media. She might do well in future to check her facts and brush up on her history.

I’ll touch on post colonialism Hong Kong another day as right now I need a nice cup of tea … along with a lovely French biscuit.

7 thoughts on “Keep Calm, Drink Tea

  1. I am actually very aware of the history related to this event, not least because a great uncle died from ingesting too much opium himself. This is a sore topic in our family.

    As I’ve said, this is just my opinion and the impression I’ve got from the article, subsequently my own interpretation of it, to which I believe I am perfectly titled?

    What is this world we live in if we can’t express our own thoughts?

  2. Note to “Weezy” writer appears to have more in touch with her heritage than you? Go and drink some tea and calm down.

  3. Weezy – “with friends and family hailing from HK” – hmmn then you really do surprise me. When i read this article i did not get the impression that the writer is sneering, she is merely pointing out that Leadsom could have used another product to lead her post Brexit economy drive on and not the contentious item of Tea. Perhaps brush up on history of Opium Wars yourself!

  4. You can sneer at the idea, but with friends and family hailing from Hong Kong, tea, homemade jams, and I assume marmalade is included in this category, and (short bread) biscuits are the most asked for items. Twinnings, Fortnum and Mason, and Whittard’s are the high end ones; while PG Tips and Tetleys are the cheapos that get asked for frequently.

    While you can slight Leadsom and say she doesn’t know the history between the countries, you, on the other hand, have failed to understand the culture of Chinese people of today.

    If there is a market of bottled Cornish air, there will be a market of British teas, biscuits and jams (much like your preference for foreign products).

    Just my opinion.

  5. Perhaps. But the tables have turned in that China is no longer isolated and it imports British and other overseas goods. Whereas during the Ching dynasty and those before it, China felt it was self sufficient…didn’t need anything from these “Barbaric foreigners!”

  6. “Fast forward to 21st Century Britain and the tables have turned.” I don’t think the tables have turned so much. Britain still pumps capital into China and China uses Britain as a safe haven for its wealth. More that the tables are more evenly used.

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