Keep Calm, Drink Tea

BY ANASTASIA CHOO

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.

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