Jet-lagged and Brexit shocked, I’m trying to readjust after returning from a week’s visit to China. The shock began as I got up at 4.30am on Friday June 24th to hear the referendum result, then left for Beijing arriving there at 6 am on Saturday. Thereafter, I caught occasional news stories over the following week.
I was in China for meetings on Agricultural Development pathways for smallholder farmers in China, first in Beijing then in Lishu in Jilin Province in NE China – but more of that in a later blog.
The four Brits in the group – worried about the consequences of the result, for research, education, our children’s future, for peace – watched incredulously as the week’s events unfolded. Picking up a couple of papers on the way home on Friday, China’s Global Times front page headline was ‘Chinese snap up British bargains after Bexit’, while the International New York Times had ‘Which city is going to be the London of the future?’
I noticed yesterday that later this month our local cinema is showing ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ and I wondered which rabbit hole or distorting mirror I’ve fallen through to arrive back in the UK. As Harold Wilson, who oversaw the last referendum on Europe, said, a week is a long time in politics. Seems more like a lifetime.
No-one it seems has any plans, or contingencies. Or perhaps a sense of proportion about our importance in the world? From N E China you could have said a small island, with a population the size of a couple of the largest Chinese cities, lying off the coast of mainland Europe has decided it no longer belongs there.
Yes, it was once a great imperial power, but not today. And Britain’s inglorious role in recent Chinese history is not forgotten, having forced opium onto the Chinese population and fought two Opium Wars in the 1800s. Almost every plaque I saw as we were shown round the Summer Palace on the Saturday afternoon when we arrived, noted it has been rebuilt “after the Anglo-French Allied Forces burned it down in 1860” after the second opium war.
And there is something Alice in Wonderland like about the talk of taking back control – as, for example, it’s the Chinese government that owns, through Bright Food, Weetabix; a Turkish firm Jaffa cakes, Penguin and McVitie’s Digestives and all the other United Biscuits; Kraft owns Cadbury’s; Canadian investors, Jammie dodgers and so on. I wonder what’s on the new shopping list now the pound is falling in value.
The importance of food and food security seems like a forgotten issue in the UK though some are starting to talk about it. In China, food, and food security are central, are hugely important issues, as was clear from the discussions we had. Perhaps, as the Food Ethics Council (I’m a member) statement on Brexit said ‘Now – as the dust settles – is the moment to pause and reflect on the effect of this historic choice on the future of our food and farming.’ As our executive director, Dan Crossley, said “Lets’…treat it as a once in a lifetime for citizens and politicians to co-create a food system that is healthy, sustainable and fair.’
And that’s a challenge not just for the UK or China but for the world.