Passport roulette...

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

14 March 2017

Thanks to the miracle of technology, I’m writing this during a ten minute quiet period in the middle of the Sommelier Wine Awards. There are wines here from Kazakhstan to California, Japan to Gippsland, and our tasters, too, are a similarly eclectic bunch. Made up of some of the best sommeliers in the country, I would guess that no more than 30% of them have English as a first language.

In this, the competition is fully representative of the vibrant, melting-pot nature of the UK on-trade.

Look through the pages of the magazine, or the rammed floors of Imbibe Live or the various events that we put on throughout the year, and it’s a joyous riot of nationalities.

The UK hospitality industry, we can deduce, doesn’t just welcome guests, no matter where they come from, it welcomes fellow workers too.

The competition is fully representative of the vibrant, melting-pot nature of the UK on-trade

It’s one of the reasons that last year’s Brexit vote was so shocking for so many of our readers.  A repudiation of the warmth and openness that defines your industry, it presented a vision of a mean-spirited, closed-doors version of Britain that was largely unrecognisable.

When it happened, I outlined the (now well-worn) economic issues that I saw waiting for us down the line. But one element that I thought would be sacrosanct would be the right of recent immigrants – particularly from the EU – to stay here.

Yet this government has been disgracefully slow to reassure the millions of people who have arrived (and been working) here over the last 20 years that their residency rights will be unaffected.

Look through the pages of the magazine and it’s a joyous riot of nationalities

It is, I’m sure, simply a negotiating tactic; a ham-fisted attempt (with all the subtlety of a Mrs Brown gag) to threaten our ex-EU partners with a tidal wave of returning citizens should we not get what we want from the Brexit divorce settlement.

But, quite apart from the fact that it’s morally reprehensible to use people’s lives as bargaining chips, it’s the most self-defeating strategy since, well, Brexit itself.

Not only does it send a 180-degrees contradictory message to the world about a country supposedly being ‘open to business with the world’ (a favoured phrase of the Brexiteers), it will utterly trash a whole stack of industries, the on-trade among them.

Looking around the bustling teams at SWA I mentally removed all the people without a British passport. We no longer had a competition.

A government-inspired exodus would rob this industry at a stroke of decades and decades of knowledge and experience

Of course, you could argue that if Europeans leave, they will simply be replaced by Brits, though the unwillingness of British nationals to enter hospitality is well documented, and I can’t see the simple fact that there’s no-one to do the job changing that.

More to the point, a government-inspired exodus would rob this industry at a stroke of decades and decades of knowledge and experience that, by definition, can’t be replaced overnight.

I still think that even this imagination-free government, with its unswerving talent for pig-headed self-destruction, will stop short of throwing out productive adopted Brits on the basis of their passport.

But they should come out and say so: enthusiastically, unambiguously, and soon…

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