Recent political events have served to remind me of an argument I had with someone at work here in Osaka a couple of years ago. The issue was one of national identity.
As we prepared to have our annual Osaka City English Day event, I was rather dismayed to see that my country, Scotland, had been omitted from the list of represented nations. The U.K. was there, but its constituent nations of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not. When I raised this issue, one rather outspoken colleague told me, in the tone with which an overbearing parent speaks to a petulant child: “Your passport says ‘British’ so you are British! Deal with it!”
Our Japanese manager seemed stunned that such perceived trivialities were even an issue for two educated adults.
It’s perhaps difficult to understand for those not born into it, but for a number of both political and personal reasons, I have always identified as a Scottish European. The idea of a “Great Britain”, with its false notions of supremacy and historic human rights abuses isn’t exactly compatible with my ideals of being part of an inclusive Europe built on equality and mutual respect.
“On the contrary,” I responded. “While the issuing authority may be the U.K. Passport Agency, my passport is a European Union passport — as it clearly says at the top.”
Angry though we both were, this was, ultimately, an argument of simple semantics and neither of us was clearly right or wrong. In the end, Scotland was given its own place at the event the following year.
Now, this little pre-amble may seem somewhat off topic, however in light of recent events I feel it is important to make my own position clear, for the sake of balance and fairness.
I refer, of course, to Britain’s decision to leave the EU, which was decided by a clear majority in a referendum last month. Even if I do think it’s a form of socio-economic seppuku, the will of the people will, I am sure, be respected and in due course the UK, or perhaps what’s left of it in a few years, will indeed leave the European Union. As indeed it should given the clear democratic mandate.
Suddenly, my little spat with my colleague about the origins of my passport took on a whole new dimension. In the fullness of time, he may be right and my EU passport could be superseded one from the U.K.
The crucial question is:
First off, as both the U.K. and Japanese governments have been keen to point out, nothing at all will change for at least two years.
As an official at the U.K. embassy in Tokyo told me directly this week: “For the time being, the U.K. remains very much an active member of the EU. Even once the process of leaving the EU (invoking Article 50 of the EU statutes) begins, it will be at least another two years before this process is formally completed. During this time, nothing changes and all current visas remain as they are for any U.K. nationals coming into Japan.”
So, there’s no need to panic people, at least not for another two years.
And with nobody in the U.K. government looking especially keen to pull the proverbial trigger at the moment, perhaps “Brexit” may take considerably longer. My source at the embassy elaborated further: “Whilst the Japanese government will decide the exact nature of their relationship with the U.K. once we leave the EU, we do not envisage any major material changes in how our two countries continue to cooperate with each other.”
Indeed, the U.K. ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens, in stark contrast to many of his parliamentary colleagues back in Westminster, has been very quick to step forward and reassure both the Japanese government and business community that the U.K. remains keen to build upon the present relationship.
Again, my source was keen to emphasize this point: “The U.K. remains very much open for business and we continue to welcome all Japanese visitors, students and investors.
This is something that we all strongly want to see continue long into the future.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said before the referendum vote that he would prefer the U.K. remained in the EU, echoing the sentiments of U.S. President Barack Obama. His position was also supported by most leaders in the Japanese business community. However, now that it’s done, there may actually be a few bright spots for the Japanese, especially for tourists.
With the value of the pound seemingly in free fall and showing little sign of recovering anytime soon, there probably hasn’t been a better time to holiday in the U.K. This is, of course, not only of benefit to Japanese tourists but also those employed in Japan such as teachers like myself who may wish to go back for the Christmas holidays.
So, in summary, if you are British and living in Japan — don’t panic.
As Simon Pegg once said, it might be a good idea to: “Head down the pub, have a pint and wait for this all to blow over.” And if you’re Japanese and interested in the U.K., go book yourself a holiday now before the pound recovers!