Some Brexit voters aren’t going to like Whiggish Global Britain
The Hong Kong question exposes a big division in the Leave camp
A few weeks before the referendum I attended a Vote Leave gathering at the top of the Millbank Tower. It was a nice crowd; I was already starting to have my doubts about the whole thing, but then MEP Daniel Hannan stood up and gave a typically-brilliant speech about how the City of London had been financial powerhouse of the world and has risen again under Thatcher and her heirs.
Free of the EU, he said it would be the centre of a new global order of free trade, opening up Britain ever more to India, China and beyond. And I remember thinking: this is really not what I want from Brexit, and it’s pretty much the opposite of what a lot of Brexit supporters want. Luckily, we won’t win, I thought, otherwise with all these contradictions we’re really screwed.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
The Conservative Party has long been an alliance of classical liberals and conservatives, united in stopping socialists getting into power. But as the great realignment has developed, politics has reverted it much more to the pre-industrial Tory v Whig model, and that alliance is going getting shakier.
I suspect that those underlying divisions between Tory and Whig visions of Brexit are going to be strained by the Government’s offer to allow three million Hong Kong Chinese a pathway to citizenship. The idea seems to have received unquestioned support among Conservative MPs, while some liberal Tories have gone further.
In CapX Sam Bowman came up with the idea of building a new Hong Kong 2.0. here in Britain, a charter city with a similar legal jurisdiction as the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.
A similar scheme has since been suggested by Bruno Macaes in The Spectator, while editor Fraser Nelson has argued that it’s “absurd now to think that Tories quivered at the idea of granting free movement to three million in Hong Kong… the best-educated and most highly skilled and productive immigrants any country could ask for”.
It’s true, of course, that the Hong Kong Chinese are more law abiding and better educated than people here.
But creating a good society is not just like hiring the best performers for a company. You need people to have a sense of ‘we’ too. Look at the USA, which contains the bulk of the world’s most brilliant people in every field, not just in overall numbers but per capita — and it’s a complete mess because they hate each other.
I’m sure the people currently living on the Humber or Thames Estuary aren’t as economically productive or well-educated or in other measurable ways useful as the Hong Kong Chinese — but they’re still our people. If even our rulers stop believing that, we really are in trouble, and I suspect a lot of voters will start to notice.
Hong Kong’s citizens perhaps are our people in an imperial sense, but then multiculturalism is a form of imperialism. Plenty of emperors, tsars and kings have imported population groups wholesale to establish a new bourgeoise and boost trade.
Democracies need to at least have some veneer of consent from the people living there; as it is, the proposal is currently quite popular, although if anything like 3m people took up the offer I suspect that would change quite quickly and we would be back to the years of immigration being a major issue once again (and after all the hassle of Brexit, too.)
I fear that a lot of Brexit voters are not going to like this Whiggish Global Britain our leaders have in store for us.
I could never understand why Brexiteers didn’t major on the “not enough houses to house the ones who are already here” argument. All politicians talk about a housing crisis and then conveniently forget about it and vote for immigration because curry houses and asparagus farmers need the workers. Where exactly are these people from HK going to live? Or perhaps I should say “how many more young people who are already here will be staying with mum and dad for longer or forever when the HK crew come?
Bringing in 3million fantastically productive and well educated Hong Kong Chinese would certainly be of great benefit to the British economy. The problem is that they would all want to live in London. Perhaps a condition of their coming here is that they would have to spend at least the first 10 years in South Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Barrow-in-Furness etc attempting to bring some dynamism and prosperity to those areas.
I am not so sure. I think that they will gravitate to the areas with enterprise zones and take advantage to set up business. After all they are not as London centric as many British and European.
5 years seems fairer.
Thinking about it, I’m an immigrant and I did 5 years outside London before moving to London for 15… Now happily in the Home Counties.
Won’t they already have suffered enough?
A most noble idea, but somewhat unrealistic.
Those who had the misfortune to be sent to Belfast or Glasgow would probably be attacked on sight.
Those to Cornwall perhaps likewise, given Cornwall’s recent antipathy to “outsiders’.
Barrow-in Furness is where our Nuclear subs are assembled, thus there would be a major security issue.
No, we let down HK in 1997 and its now too late for recompense.
Perhaps back in the 80’s when we asked our Imperial Master the US, what we should do about HK, and received the ‘order’ to abandon it, we could have made contingency plans for some sort of evacuation in 1997.
However the subject of immigration in the 80’s was as toxic then as it is now.
My vision for a post BREXIT UK was of a nation that was not tied to and hamstrung by 7% of the worlds population, but one which might lose something from the 7% but gain far more form the other 93%. I always scoffed at the ludicrous comparative GDP in 10 years predictions if we did or did not leave and how much poorer per household we would be if we left. After a short period of getting ourselves organised, we would soon be ahead and that never made it into the predictions. Obviously that did not take account of Covid, but I still feel the same applies and perhaps more so given the way the EU is dealing with distribution of funding to member states to rebuild – I am certainly glad we will not be embroiled in that debacle.
As far as immigration was concerned a growing economy needs more people and, provided the proceeds from a growing economy go into the infrastructure and services more people need, I never had a problem with numbers. All I ever wanted was for us to have control over who came – very happy with Polish plumbers; unhappy with Romanian criminals; delighted with people from outside Europe who would respect our laws and contribute to our economy in return for the benefits our society has to offer; significantly less delighted with thugs and criminals from the rest of the world, but all undesirables whether they come from EU or not can now be sent back to where they came from.
We are already a very diverse country and admittedly we are still struggling to embrace that diversity and really have not done well with regards to many aspects of integration. However I see the idea of carving out a separate Hong Kong in UK as abhorrent and totally counter productive. The last thing we want is for other communities to decide to set up their own enclaves (ghettos). Just possibly an influx from Hong Kong might show us the way to achieve better integration and we can exploit the learning to begin to solve the pre-existing problem areas.
So logically then, there is no limit to the number that England can accommodate. If there is, what is it?
Your confidence seems to wain more in the view of young people’s ability instead of the robustness and ability of our economy.
The UK are world leaders in many industries including the most needed and innovative like renewable energy and financial services to name just two.
While I share your dread of how soft and easily mislead the youth of today are, I have no doubt that Britain has more than enough going for it to be an even bigger player in the global economy to come than it has since it joined the EU.
I’m disappointed you have such a low opinion of our fellow citizens, Ed. The British will welcome them as we have always welcomed genuine refugees. I do foresee some opposition though, from those minority ethnic communities who have grown used to deploying their victim status to achieve special treatment. They will, I suspect, resent having to share the limelight with a new and numerous group of immigrants, especially a group who show gratitude for the refuge they have been given and are keen to work hard and establish themselves.
The prospect of large numbers of Hong Kongers arriving in Britain was raised in 1997, without asking if they really wanted to come. Very few had any desire to do so, because of the ‘two bads’ — the economy and the weather.
I agree that parliament is now divided into Tory and Whig factions; the Tories are made up of all the various remainer groups (including the Labour party) and the Whigs are the leavers. The problem is that in the country, many of the leavers are Labour voters who won’t be happy with the Neo-liberal policies of the Whigs.
Well said Ed. Going to be interesting seeing how the Tory vote in the “red wall” constituencies holds up when big numbers start coming in from HK .
I personally doubt there will be any exodus from Hong Kong. Offering a diplomatic open door is one thing but an actual exodus happening is another. I’m sure people in Hong Kong are astute enough to know that the UK already has a housing shortage and an economic capacity issue so the prospect of living in pop up barrack accommodation I doubt will be very appealing.
The Hong Kong issue probably needs more exploring because a comment (on another forum) which I read by a British expat living over there was that the security law was a good thing.
I certainly have mixed feelings about another spurt of population growth unless immigration comes down elsewhere. Our meagre economic growth is already subsidised by debt with actual real growth almost non existent (1). This means population growth within a relatively stabilised economic capacity means a reduction in living standards generally as per a reducing gdp per capita.
Similarly, population growth within our reducing ecological capacity also means a reduction in living standards generally as more and more people means less greenbelt and less greenfields.
Since we already have a massive ecological debt (2), then this will require more import dependancies which will continue to over value the pound. This will obviously have implications for export growth which might be countered by tariff free free port zones to some unknown degree.
Whilst migration driven economic growth might seem appealing or even viable to some, the reality is that population growth creates positive feedbacks within a system that has already been exposed as fragile. For example, every additional 1000, requires more roads, more schools, more housing, more pollution, more imported co2 emissions and more upfront costs to expand grey infrastructure generally.
In this respect, my greatest concern regarding the Tory Whiggish expectations is their delusion that indefinite economic growth can be realised without severe ecological consequences. In my opinion, we are already living in a Malthusian Moment and it can only get worse.
So along with the fact that unemployment is bound to be on the rise, I cannot see much viability in a Hong Kong exodus myself unless of course the Liberal Establishment see this as another opportunity to derail Brexit.
“In this respect, my greatest concern regarding the Tory Whiggish expectations is their delusion that indefinite economic growth can be realised without severe ecological consequences. In my opinion, we are already living in a Malthusian Moment and it can only get worse.”
– Well said. Taking a look at the population densities of countries in the UK (England in particular) to others in the world its sobering read as it is only going to go in one direction – up. Its my hope that with the understanding that the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries on the planet* and the need to regenerate our natural environment is that any decisions locally or of national interest have “has a positive enviromental effect” one of the first lenses used to look through….but of course I forget that doesn’t make money so would be used far less..silly me.
*According to the WWF
3 million people from Hong Kong will be eligible for citizenship, etc. But that doesn’t mean all 3 million people will come here and apply for it.
If the rate of immigration is reduced with the exception of the Hong Kongers, and maybe the Rhodesians, then things may be ok.
” Where are all those eager young industrialists desperate to break free of the EU shackles to make their fortune in the big wide world?”
The are all working in the private sector and I’m pretty sure that the likes of PHE are not very attractive to them.
You’re right about lack of any planning / future vision…
Waiting for Far Eastern industrial giants and getting by on the ready cash gleaned from foreign billionaires seems to be about it.
As long as it is a managed immigration with the housing and utilities increased to accommodate it would be fine. We must not forget that the usual hundreds of thousands would still be arriving from elsewhere.
How many more millions would you like England to accommodate, or is there no limit?
The UK has always been slow to react to threats. Only have to look at how unprepared we were for WWII.
The government relying on Ian Ferguson’s bit of amateur programming as a basis for its decisions
Tabloid bullshit, I’m afraid. Read the FT: https://ftalphaville.ft.com… (needs free reg if you’re not a subscriber).
When not complaining about their lives being ruined by BabyBoomers our young seem more concerned with moral preening…
I feel the important point of how bringing over more low skilled European workers from the likes of Belruse and the new invites to the EU table especially, is expected to have a different, more negative effect than and increase in higher educated work forces from Asia arriving.
Offering the prospect of citizenship to 3m Hong Kongers is not the same thing as 3m HKers actually taking up the offer and coming to the UK.
The offer is likely a politically symbolic act of solidarity with the citizens of a former British colony rather than anything else.
A former colony whose increasingly emboldened belligerent ‘new’ masters have now seen fit to treat differently than previously internationally legally agreed until 2047.
That said, should a number those largely highly educated, hard working, law abiding, culturally sympathetic individuals wish to avail themselves of what the UK might have to offer then, frankly, they’re more than welcome here.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe