Deep breath. “We are pro-secco and by no means anti-pasti.” Yes, Boris Johnson is talking food and Brexit again.
In a rambling, sorry, wide-ranging speech to the British Chambers of Commerce yesterday, the foreign secretary set out the many wonderful trade opportunities that await the UK once it’s cast off the shackles of its membership of the European Union.
Opportunities pithily encapsulated by the modern miracle of the supermarket pineapple. Do you remember when pineapples used to only come “in a tin with a gloopy syrup”? Boris does, and it’s got him thinking about globalisation.
“Today there is a force that brings the pineapple, the papaya, the guava and the melon to London every night on the 10.30 flight from Accra in Ghana,” he explained. “And actually I caught that flight myself in the last couple of weeks; I literally, physically sat on top of 13 tonnes of chilled fruit, packed and ready to be distributed to the stalls of London, and I can tell you authoritatively that the same sliced fresh pineapple, retailing at rather different prices depending on whether it is going to Aldi or to Waitrose, is turning up in our shops the following morning. There’s nothing wrong with the differential in prices, by the way, it’s called branding, isn’t it?”
Right. Anyway. Have we talked about chicken-sexers yet? They’re part of the miracle of globalisation too, part of a thriving British diaspora that means “Britain is more plugged in to events in distant countries than any other nation of our size and wealth”. (Oh, you thought this was going to be about how continued access to migrant workers is critical to UK food and agriculture? Silly you.)
But back to Brexit and those pineapples. Did you know that we not only import pineapples from Ghana every night – but guess what? “We take those pineapples and we chemically transform them, and we actually export pineapple jam to America. Can you believe that? Americans.”
Which is just spiffing. What would be even more spiffing, of course, is if Americans also started to buy British beef or Scottish haggis, which are probably more substantial export opportunities than pineapple jam. But that’s nothing a bit of “can do” attitude can’t sort. Quoth Johnson: “I think you’ll agree with me that if they can eat pineapple jam, they can certainly manage haggis.” That’s that settled then.
The only cloud over our soon-to-be permanently sunlit uplands are those naysayers “droning and moaning about the state of the world”. You know, the food and drink trade bodies warning about impending Brexit chaos at the Irish border. Or the growers who now have to speak to eight separate people in order to secure a single seasonal worker.
Or, for that matter, the food & drink exporters (from both side of the Brexit debate, incidentally) who are still waiting for the government’s Technicolor export dream to be backed up with some proper resource. For all its rhetoric about exports, food & drink companies keep telling us UK support for things like trade missions pales in comparison to what’s available in countries like Ireland and the Netherlands.
That’s why it’s so infuriating that, instead of focusing on the heavy lifting, the unglamorous but oh-so-vital grunt work behind the scenes, we hear ministers regurgitate the same cutesy headline fodder over and over again: we’re selling tea to China, curry to India, pineapple jam to the US, et cetera ad nauseam.
Does the government really think it can encourage more food & drink companies into exporting with this guff?
As Mr Johnson himself might put it: “Come off it, sunshine.”