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19 October 2016

Of all the stupid things about Brexit, basing an economy on tea is particularly dim

The Government has announced that tea, jam and biscuits will be at the heart of our trade plans. This is a bad idea.

By Stephanie Boland

I’m starting to wonder what Theresa May is playing at. I was already suspicious when she appointed serial producer of xenophobic comments, Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary. Now she’s letting Environment Minister Andrea Leadsom talk to Europe about Brexit.

So, we learn, Leadsom went to a Paris trade fair where  for reasons incomprehensible to this writer – she explained that tea, biscuits and jam will be a key part of British trade plans post-Brexit.

I’ll leave the latter two items for now, but it’s impossible not to comment on the ridiculousness of declaring tea an economy-sustaining export.

First of all: we do not grow tea. Let me revise that: we barely grow tea. Strictly speaking, there is now tea being grown in Britain the first crop was in 2005 but we don’t make enough tea for us to drink, let alone to export.

This is for the obvious reason that tea does not take well to wet, cold weather. Indeed, we only have it in the first place because we invaded half the world and stole heaps of the stuff from China and India.

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This surprise!  is where tea is still principally grown today (the four biggest tea-producing countries are China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya. Note how none of those are in Surrey).

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But, I hear you moan, haven’t we been profiting off things we nicked for hundreds of years? Isn’t that what the British tradition is based on?

To which I say: save it for the museums, chum. The fact is, the tea we consume is mostly produced and packaged by gasp! foreign companies.

True, Twinings and Yorkshire Tea are owned by UK companies: the former by Associated British Foods, the latter by Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate.

But the brands we drink most PG Tips, Tetley, and Typhoo, whose joint sales make up 64 per cent of the UK market aren’t British.

PG Tips is owned by Unilever, who are Dutch, and Tetley is wholly owned by Tata Global Beverages, an Indian multinational company with headquarters in Kolkata. 

Typhoo is also owned by an Indian company: the Apeejay Surrendra Group, one of the country’s oldest business conglomerates.

What’s a good patriot to do? Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a campaign to encourage people to swap to British brands. 

This would, of course, have the slightly pathetic ring of post-9/11 “Freedom Fries” rebranding but at least it would continue one of the grand old traditions of the empire: taking things from elsewhere, giving them a jingoistic redesign, and making off with as much cash as possible.

Now, if only we could figure out how to market cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, spotted dick, and overcooked vegetables. 

I’m off for a brew.