Friday, March 03, 2017

Pret and Brexit. It's all about attitude.

At one level, the woman on BBC Question Time who expressed concerns about who was going to make her post-Brexit coffee at Pret was rather silly. She should have realised that her comment was going to paint her as a pampered and affluent London Remoaner.

It’s an easy trap to fall into.

I remember being in the audience 25 years ago for one of those terrible daytime TV discussion shows – Kilroy or The Time The Place or similar – and we were discussing childcare. Some lady started prattling on about nannies and I had to remind her that this wasn’t actually most people’s experience of childcare arrangements.

So the message is clear: think before you open your mouth.

On the other hand, you can’t help feeling the Pret lady had a pretty valid point.

Virtually no one, as far as I can tell, who works in frontline hospitality in London comes from the UK. Many will be citizens of other EU countries and have the name badges with the flags to prove it. These are indeed the people who serve us coffees and sandwiches, wait at tables in restaurants and staff the reception desks in hotels.

So at an economic and practical level, she is right on the money. And that money is probably Euros rather than pounds sterling.

But the reaction to her comments also revealed something about the Brexit divide in the UK. It’s not just about class and age and location, although all those factors are important. It’s about attitude.

Remainers go to Pret to get their snacks and caffeine fix. Brexiters believe in packed lunches and Swiss Nescafé. And I would stress this is not necessarily because they are poorer. I mean even the wealthier, middle-class Brexiters would eschew a lot of the modern coffee shops and sandwich bars.

They would say they were too expensive and a waste of money, but they’d happily pay for membership of their local golf club or have a splurge at the DIY store at the weekend. They’d shell out hundreds a month so that they could have a better car than their neighbours.

Middle-class Brexiters have a different attitude to life. They have different priorities. If they had money, they wouldn’t spend it on exotic-sounding coffees in fashionable parts of London or care about the people who served them. They’d put the money away for that cruise they had their eye on.

Before the referendum, I remember having an argument with an older Leave supporter, who lives in an affluent middle-class London suburb. I told him that I had applied for an Irish passport to retain my right to live and work in Europe. His blank expression told me that he couldn’t understand why anyone would want such a right.

I reckon he doesn’t go to Pret.