“Frankly we’ve got used to New Zealand being there alongside us – alongside the US, the UK, Australia, as part of the family,” the British foreign secretary said yesterday on New Zealand joining the anti-Islamic State coalition.
But were his comments insensitive? Certainly, they have got many bristling.
Hammond was in Wellington for talks with Prime Minister John Key and Foreign Minister Murray McCully. It was not a courtesy call – it became clear at a media conference that Hammond was here to lean on New Zealand.
It’s hardly a co-incidence that Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, is in Auckland today for meetings with defence chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating.
Britain, an influential player in the international coalition, wants Key to send 100 troops to Iraq. The Government has signalled it will offer training to Iraqi forces, but Cabinet is still grappling with the details.
Perhaps Hammond thought he was merely echoing sentiments expressed by Key on a recent visit to London. Joining the conflict in Iraq was the “price of the club,” Key told the BBC.
A few hours earlier Hammond had trotted out the “family” line – handing over a plaque bearing the names of World War I Victoria Cross recipients. Inscribed was Corporal Cyril Bassett, the only New Zealander to be awarded the VC in the Gallipoli campaign.
British blunders that led to the carnage at Anzac Cove a century ago redefined the relationship with the Empire. Enduring resentment over Britain’s treatment of New Zealand is one reason why Hammond’s comments were thoughtless.
A second is that some believe the indifference continues today in the form of tight visa restrictions. Even MPs from Hammond’s own Conservative party have recently pointed out the historical links count for nothing and that Commonwealth citizens have less access than many European migrants.
Hammond politely listened when the subject was raised by McCully. Then, to make his case for an Iraq deployment, he tactlessly claimed terrorism presents a risk because New Zealanders are “inveterate travellers.”
Kiwis are being encouraged into the Iraqi conflict. But not the immigration gates at Heathrow.
Acknowledgements: Stuff NZ