I’m on what has become an annual business trip this time of year, to Duesseldorf. Just before my flight out of London City Airport, I met with one of our Japanese corporate clients in the City, who told me that they are about to establish their European Union headquarters in the Netherlands. Brexit was not directly mentioned as the reason for this, more that “compliance and regulatory issues” made Amsterdam the preferred choice. The EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa HQ) will remain in London. The Amsterdam office will be beefed up and some of the regional functional people are being transferred there from London. This is precisely the sort of gradual drift to the Continent that I fear will follow an actual Brexit – and it is happening already.
Arriving at Duesseldorf airport, I was struck by the clear division at passport control between “EU Citizens/Burger” and “Other Nationalities”. An EU blue path (that made you feel it was a red carpet) took you to a completely separate set of passport officials. In UK airports, the different lanes are side by side, and it’s often quicker to go to the “all passports” queue than wait in the EU queue. There is no mention of us all being “citizens” either in British immigration control. Some Brits may find this willingness to treat us as equal citizens of Germany somewhat troubling from a historical perspective, but I felt rather flattered.
Then on to my hotel, with a huge array of channels including BBC World. But there was no signal for the BBC channel. So I ended up watching some fascinating documentaries on the cultivation and cooking of lotus roots, and Indonesia’s fad for J pop Wotagei dancing on NHK World instead. Japan/NL/Germany soft power 1, British soft power 0.
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