Mondays with Matthew: Visitors Welcome (1 of 2)

Post by Matthew Lodge

Hello again. It’s good to be back for a second week of “Mondays with Matthew”. I have enjoyed reading all your comments on my first post – even the more critical ones! I’ll respond to as much as I can, and I’ll always respond honestly.

In the spirit of that approach, I wanted to say a few words about visas – the first thing that comes to mind when you mention that you’re the British Ambassador to Kuwait. Yes it’s not the most exciting subject, but it’s clearly one that generates a lot of frustration and emotion. “Too expensive”, “too slow”, “too complicated”, “unfair”, “unnecessary”, or even “insulting”. These are all comments I have heard when listening to Kuwaitis talk about visas to travel to the UK. Let me tackle this head on. My hope over the next two posts is to explain why we do what we do, and how travellers can make the system work as smoothly for them as possible.

Let me start by saying that the United Kingdom welcomes visitors. We are delighted that so many Kuwaitis enjoy travelling to the UK, visiting London and other cities and we want that to continue. Last year, the visa team here at the Embassy received around 100,000 applications for visas from Kuwait for people wishing to travel to the UK. That number doesn’t include all those who have longer-term visas, who are studying or those visiting the UK for medical treatment. In addition, a study by Visit Britain (the UK’s tourist agency) showed that Kuwaiti visitors did more shopping in the UK than any other nationality last year. The UK’s close relationship with Kuwait and the strong human ties are something very special and I am anxious that we maintain and strengthen them.

So, why do we need a Global visa regime at all?

It’s all about security and control. The UK is open, tolerant and welcoming. It is also a country that continues to be shaped by its past with large immigrant communities, an increasingly diverse society and a genuinely global outlook. Add to this the English language, the National Health Service and other factors, and the UK becomes an enormously attractive destination for migrants from many different countries. And then consider the UK’s high profile internationally, the determination of successive UK Governments to stand up for those elsewhere who face oppression, injustice and violence – and you also see a UK that is viewed as a target for those who want to do us harm, who don’t share our views and don’t like our engagement overseas.

One of the prime responsibilities of any national Government is to keep its country – and its people – safe. In the 21st century, that responsibility has become even harder to fulfil. Controlling who crosses our borders is a fundamental element of this. That is why we need to operate a visa regime. It’s not about making life difficult for honest travellers and welcome visitors. It is about stopping those who would do us harm, discouraging those who want to enter the UK illegally, and controlling those who might want to stay on after they have finished what they came for.

So, if we accept that we – sadly – need a visa regime, how can we make it as smooth as possible? More on that next Monday, but for now I welcome your thoughts and input in the comments section!

Post by Matthew Lodge
British Ambassador to Kuwait
Instagram: @HMAMatthewLodge Twitter: @HMAMatthewLodge

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52 comments, add your own...


  1. Khaled says:

    The issue with visas isn’t limited to the process – but the company tasked with handling it.

    1- Understaffed (takes 30+ minutes just to check papers and retrieve a number)
    2- Poor location with no parking
    3- Exorbitant add on fees (delivery, picture, photo-copies)
    4- Lack of information (I went over their website in detail – it doesn’t mention required papers) – forcing you to purchase additional photos/copies there.

    As for the process itself – its unnecessarily bureaucratic and can easily be simplified by having one employee complete the whole process (instead of having visitor go to three/four separate desks).

    • Firas says:

      I can’t agree more!

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      We commit to serve customers within 45 minutes. On average, it takes applicants 25 minutes to submit their papers. I’m sorry the parking remains an issue. When we opened the application centre we were promised that dedicated parking would be in place within a couple of months. We continue to press the landlord to deliver on that. In the meantime, we have valet parking and a shuttle bus service on offer. As for fees for extra services, if applicants come prepared and apply early, all they need to pay for is the basic visa fee – nothing else. If people need more info, I recommend they try https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa

      • Khaled says:

        Matthew,

        Thank you for taking the time to read my response. The items you have pointed out, while are the correct measure that should have been taken – just aren’t implemented in reality.

        1. Valet – This is usually full – And the shuttle bus service is spotty at times, it took over 20 minutes for the pickup to arrive during my last visit (Mind you this was in the middle of August).

        2. Documents listed – The VFS Global website (people handling the booking) states that one picture is required. And the UK Visa website states that two pictures are required. This is an example of the discrepancies faced when applying.

        http://www.vfsglobal.co.uk/kuwait/

        Little things like the above lead to frustration – compounded by the high cost (and processing time) of visa requests.

        In addition, the services such as VIP and Rush processing
        make the visa process seem like a way to add unnecessary fees – which you should either pay or suffer with the normal process.

        I honestly believe that the right steps were taken on behalf of the UK Embassy – however, someone should be present to ensure the steps are being followed. It is a matter of quality assurance more than anything.

    • Neil says:

      are you describing a kuwaiti process cos thats exactly what its like. Driving license for one

      • Khaled says:

        The process in Kuwaiti governments is extremely bureaucratic, slow and chaotic – and this is something effecting expats and locals alike.However – that shouldn’t be set as an excuse for the UK Visa process.

        We should be using the UK Visa process as a benchmark and example – learning from it to improve the broken Kuwaiti system.

        Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  2. Firas says:

    Regardless to the fuss about the visas, i appreciate the fact that you Mr. Ambassador take the time to read our comments and interact with us. I wish other Ambassadors would do the same. Keep up the god work :)

  3. Buzz says:

    I stopped going to the UK ages ago. Instead I enjoy my vacations in continental Europe with their unified visa which I can obtain, without even having to show up in person, in 20 minutes flat, for an entire year, all for 24 KD thank you very much. So, does that imply the rest of Europe are careless about their security? Hardly.

    I fail to see the connection between expensive, unduly complicated visa procedures and national security. The people who committed the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, for example, were all British nationals and the visa system would have made no difference. The foreigner = potential security threat logic is an oversimplification of the matter and it doesn’t work in this day and age. Look no further than Syria and Iraq and you will see the UK is now a net exporter of terrorists to the Middle East and not the other way around thanks to the likes of ISIS.

    Mind you, I’m not suggesting doing away with the visa, but does it have to be this complicated, especially for law abiding repeat visitors?

    With all due respect, I think the UK government is milking the visa system for all its worth being fully aware of the Gulf people’s addiction to London. Serves us right. Addictions are costly habits to maintain.

    Cheers

  4. shabz says:

    Why isnt there a help section who checks your papers and then tells you that you will get a visa or no…. why do we have to pay and then know we will get visas or no…

    I applied for a visa, i got rejected due to a 1 single missing document(they could have called and said submit your document and i would have). I resubmitted my application immediately the next day by again paying full fees with extra prime time fees as there was no appointments avlbl at normal times, and this time they rejected me again with a different reason.

    is it fare? if so… i am ready to give you my application numbers if you respond and have a look at it yourself…

  5. jenny says:

    A minor issue-Since the topic relates to visas in general, I think its more appropriate that you address non-Kuwaitis as well. I am sure the UK wants other nationalities to visit as well.

    • Joe says:

      Well if your name is really Jenny, odds are you don’t need a visa to being with.

      • Joe from Afghanistan says:

        I really really tried to find the logic behind that statement you made.

        But, I can’t because there isn’t any.

        I’ve met an Indian who’s name is Spencer, a Philipino by the name of Chris, an Indonesian who goes by Gareth.

        I’ve also met Brits like Salman, a guy named Rahul and this nice dude named Mohammed. But, “odds are” they probably need visas to enter the UK.

        You see where I’m going with this? I mean “Jenny” asked that question because it was relevant to her. She could be from anywhere and, no offense, you made a really stupid assumption based on her name? Lol.

        Welcome to the 21st Century, we’re glad you could make it!

        Signed,
        Joe from Afghanistan, who needs a visa and probably needs to submit to a cavity search (just kidding!) to enter the UK.

  6. Haitham says:

    It is certainly impressive that you engage directly with the community in Kuwait in such an open and direct manner. A lot can be learnt from that!
    On the need for Visas, as you are aware Mr. Ambassador, UK citizens do not require one to visit Kuwait. Reciprocal treatment is the norm in diplomatic reationships as I understand.
    further, I believe you instituted a simpler regime for other GCC countries. Shouldn’t Kuwait be treated the same?
    Thank you for your time.

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      It’s not quite true to say UK nationals don’t need a visa. We just have to apply at the airport if we haven’t done so before travelling. The system we have recently put in place for the UAE, Qatar and Oman is called an Electronic Visa Waiver. We are hoping in will be in place here in Kuwait before next summer’s peak travelling season. This will allow visitors (not students or medical patients) to fill in an online form up to 48 hours before they travel, and avoid having to have a visa. It will also be free of charge. So, we are working on it. I hope there will be more good news before too long.

  7. Khaldoon says:

    Thank a lot Mr. Ambassador.

    While it’s totally understood and accepted that UK, or simply any other country, has all the right to ensure that its security is maintained by all means, we – as Kuwaitis – can’t but express our deepest concerns regarding the visa issuing process itself; from all aspects I’d say, be it the duration, fees, submission, friendliness of staff, etc. If you – with all authority you have in hand – can enhance and improve this process to make it as smooth and efficient as possible, rest assured that all Kuwaitis would be remembering your name and regard you as a real hero.

    Wish you all the best in your endeavors.

    Regards,

  8. Visakar says:

    Good to hear your comments your Excellency. The only issue I had on the visa is to get an update we need to call Bahrain contact number and I ended up answering several questions which cost me around KD 4 to inform that the visa is still under process. Can’t an automated system of tracking will make our lives a lot easier.

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      I am working to get the Bahrain number replaced with a Kuwaiti number. We haven’t managed to persuade the telecoms company yet – but we’re working on it!

  9. 3azeez says:

    Man, I was not going to ask questions or make complaints but since you started reading what people have to say and commenting then I’m going to say what I had in mind…

    Why do Kuwaiti students need to register with the police and keep their address updated?

    We are Kuwaitis, we enjoy traveling around a lot, we have our relative apartments where we will stay in addition to our student accommodation, we also take the opportunity to fly back home whenever time permits.

    Yes I understand that there are guidelines of how much a student should dedicate of his time for his studies… however that is assuming that a student is an undergrad with classes every day from 9:30 to 17:30! It does not take into consideration postgraduate students with different study plans (ie research) granting them the flexibility to stay in different addresses in the same city or other cities for extended periods. It definitely does not factor in the fact that some students from some countries are doing well financially and they’re eager to travel back home whenever the time permits, or have their relatives coming to the UK for longer periods and the students would like to reunite for a while. It definetly does not take into consideration the Kuwaiti social activities lifestyle where everyone has a flat somewhere and everyone wants you to be with them for a while.

    Oh and of course most disappointing thing about the system… it assumes that we are terrorists and a threat to the security of the UK! Reality, most who are causing problems in the UK are either citizens of commonwealth countries or those who the UK granted permit to stay as refugees or whatever! So we really have nothing to do with that mess… why have us go through the pain of keeping in touch with the police station? The biggest issue to me is that I wont be able to keep them updated for every movement that they require and every address change that happens. That will mean I will be in violation for the law… that mean you have made me violating the law by simply abstaining from doing anything!!! Do you think its good to live every day feeling that you’re breaking the law?

  10. Joe says:

    Ha ha ha ha and as if Kuwait offers a spotless visa process….. NOT, far from it! I know that there is a difference in residence visa (for Europeans moving to Kuwait and tourist visa (for Kuwaitis visiting Europe) but honestly, who comes to Kuwait as a tourist. I have lived in all GCC states except Qatar and Oman and I have never come across a more rotten and humiliating visa application process than in Kuwait. It is impossible to get this done on your own and the services of a mandoob is required. Moreover are applicants treated like dirt while going through the ridiculous application process. There is also zero information available in English at all the various institutions one has to visit in order to go through the process. UK or EU visas are a breeze in comparison and trust me, I have done it for our nanny. Let the UK or EU visa process remain cumbersome to Kuwaitis until Kuwait can offer an equally smooth process to Europeans applying for a visa in Kuwait.

  11. Muddassir says:

    And I don’t see why British citizens with non-EU family members should go through the same process as regular visitors to go to the UK. Immediate family members should automatically have right of entry to the UK regardless of their nationality.

    It makes me think 10 times to travel to the UK if I want to take my family with me.

  12. iTango says:

    Spoken like a reue diplomat!

  13. Khalid says:

    I applied for a visa no more than two months ago. I opted it for the regular visa, not the VIP. The guy at the counter said it’ll take 10-14 business days. It took 17 business days and i had to cancel my trip. The whole place is in a shambles.

  14. Nixon says:

    I’m just impressed your putting up with the comments, your excellency.

    I can’t comment on the British visa since the only times Ive ever been in the UK were for flight transitions in Heathrow.

  15. Bojaij says:

    My family has decided to sell the summer house in Cardiff – a house we owned for over 25 years – because of the ever increasing visa troubles. I don’t think the 100 000 Kuwaiti shoppers will keep coming to London when they see how easier it is to get Visas for other attractive shopping destinations in Europe and elsewhere.

    Looking forward for part 2 of the post by Mr Ambassador.

  16. Neil says:

    Most people in uk dont know Middle East people or cultures, sadly all they hear is the racist popular press things like the 15 year old selling poppies today.
    However whilst the majority is absolutely fine sadly you don’t help yourselves. It is not all about money and buying your way around, when I am in Kuwait I respect you now do the same for UK

  17. Neil says:

    Mark I apologise in advance for the above comment

  18. Hommer says:

    A suggestion is to make the visa 10 years like the US for people with a clean history. This way you will have less compliants, less delays, and better security to follow up a person with one visa number rather than changing every year. Plus it would remove doubts of people saying that uk is after the visa money.

    Thanks for lending an ear.

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      You can apply for a 5 or 10 year multiple entry visa. It is not cheap – but it is the most efficient way of ensuring you can always visit the UK, even at short notice.

  19. James says:

    Mr. Ambassador,
    Firstly thank you for taking the social media route and making the time to interact with us while also providing extensive information on the process.

    I have a plus/minus story to tell. The plus would be – good job with the current visa process but that’s just about it – good. You are the UK and we expect nothing but the best. Your visa fees aren’t cheap, plus the website you mentioned isn’t helpful in reality – its good a quick stop check up. I have to agree with Khaled above and your response is noted.

    To get the service better, you have to atleast get two things in order:

    1) Get a free telephone service locally in Kuwait – not from the UK (which is currently paid) as they will not know the intricacies of issues we face here. This way we can get the information we need correctly and approach VFS, as you mentioned, with all requisite documentation. Currently your website is less than helpful in that department to be honest
    2) Get the parking sorted it at the earliest. Currently they are parking cars four lanes out onto the main road, not to mention many a time, the valet refusing to take the car – “parking full sir”

    I hope you act to get us a dedicated helpline the least and I think the increased number of happy tourists and students will follow automatically.

    Regards,
    James

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      James, Thanks. Comments noted. I’ll see what we can do about the phone line. But (as I have commented above) we are working on the car parking

  20. James says:

    By the way you addressed just the Kuwaitis. Have you taken into account the Expats from Kuwait who travel and contribute to your economy?

  21. Rich says:

    Its their country. Their rules. If you like it, go. If you don’t like it then go elsewhere.
    There is a visa system in place for their own security. Tomorrow if they set Kuwait visa free, then the next day Saudi will ask the same. And we all know where the 9-11 hijackers came from. Lets face the facts. Kuwait has its own share of terrorist sympathizers. Us tax paying citizens of the UK and Western countries would like to maintain the status quo.

  22. RT says:

    It is hilarious that when expats in kuwait ask for better treatment, we are told, “if you dont like it, go back”

    And here they ask for best treatment for being a tourist..

    As Rich said above, Guys, if you cant follow the process, go somewhere else…

  23. thek5 says:

    Dear Mr Ambassador,

    I just would like to say for the record, yes a few of the fees are exaggerated and the waiting lines even after paying for premium is not normal especially when you have an appointment and still have to wait. Besides that I dont understand the whole visa issue as im sure you didn’t put it in place and I am aware that kuwait my country has a horrible visa system which allows for the manipulation of migrant workers in Kuwait who pay 500 kd + to get a worker visa. If we want to visit a country then we have to follow the respective country’s requests which I find ridiculously simple, the form is there the information is there and you also have people to help you fill it out if your having trouble. A little bit of work is no reason to whine about as long as you have the requirements set by the British Govt and not Mr. Mathew him self, I don’t see this as a place to complain about visas but to get an look at a different side to someone in a interesting positon, political speaking.

    Thank you for your time and effort and the best of luck

  24. kuwait says:

    The majority of Kuwaiti women who visit the UK don’t wear the Abaya

    We are Kuwaitis, not Emiratis/Qataris

  25. Laura says:

    what about other nationalities getting a visa. it’s very tough . especially for Indians. Why is there no easier way to obtain a visa?

  26. san says:

    You can reject the visa request. Its up to u. once rejected y dont u return back the visa fees. We have to bear the frustration of visa rejection, air ticket loss and visa fees loss. I lost 37*4 kd as visa fees and non refundable air ticket fare. Shit. No more applying for UK visa.

  27. LRg142 says:

    David Cameron criticised for wanting to restrict Europe immigration.

    http://www.cityam.com/1415066741/cameron-criticised-wanting-restrict-europe-immigration

    Waw what a coincidence lol. In my humble opinion Mr.Lodge if airlines companies started to make ” DIRECT ” flights from Kuwait to the West Europe countries (
    Austria, Switzerland , France , Germany ” Munich” ,Monaco } and to Northern Europe (
    Denmark , Finland , Iceland , Ireland ,Norway , Sweden ) and even to Southern Europe countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina ,Italy , Montenegro and Spain I can assure Mr.Ambassador that the number of applications will definitely drops to the rate that the embassy is familiar with. The reason of this extremely highly number of applications to UK from Kuwait rather than any other GCC country is simply because we as Kuwaitis have no other option to choose from like in Emirates & Qatar Airways direct flights that they provide to their citizens and residents.

    Kuwaitis favorites destinations are ( Egypt, Lebanon and Syria ) and since the Arab Sprig London, Dubai and Turkey are only options we have and you can observe it by the number of properties that is owned by Kuwaitis since the Arab Spring.
    IF any Kuwaiti here disagrees with me please reply and tell why you prefer to choose transit flight over a direct flight. Once again thank you Mr.Lodge for sharing your time :)

  28. Sara AlAjmi says:

    Dear Mr. Lodge,

    I would first like to thank you for taking time off of your busy schedule to reach out to the public to really hear what people in Kuwait have to say.

    I am a final year PhD student in the University of Birmingham (Political Science and International Studies). I have been a student in the UK for the past 5 years now. My three year student visa was due to expire in August, so I decided to go back to Kuwait in July to enjoy Ramadan with family and friends, and to extend my visa for my PhD write-up year while I was there too.

    I applied for my visa online and was given a date (7/7/2014) to submit my application in the Al-Tijaria building. I arrived at 12pm and did not leave until 5:45pm that evening. The following points are an exact breakdown of how each process took:

    * 1/2hour to get a checked in and given a number
    * 2 hours to hand in my application (what’s the point of having an appointment if they don’t follow the times they have given us?)
    * 1 hour to get my fingerprints taken (keeping in my that I am a returning student)
    * 2 hours and 15 minutes to be interviewed over Skype (they asked me questions that did not even apply to a returning PhD student, and I pointed out that the questions were not applicable. The employee interviewing me even agreed and laughed about how generic the questions were).

    I would like to emphasize on the fact that this was during Ramadan. When I began to get frustrated about how incredibly long the process was taking, one employee in working there told me “imagine how I feel? We’re suppose to finish work at 5, but don’t leave until everyone is gone”. I felt sorry for her, but how is that my problem?

    When I finally completed all the process I was informed that the visa would take approximately 10-15 working days. I did not choose the VIP speedy option because I believed I had more than enough time. 15 working days later I returned to see if my visa was ready; it wasn’t. I continued to drive from Ahmadi to Kuwait City on a daily basis just to check if my visa was ready for two more day, until on the 17th working day I was informed to go to the embassy to see if there was anything wrong with my application. Once I arrived at the embassy I was greeted by friendly security guards who gave my details to the personnel working inside. Moments later I was informed that my visa was going to be dispatched to VFS office, and that I could pick it up that afternoon. I then returned to the VFS office and waited until the visas arrived and were sorted. To my surprise my passport was not one of the passports that had arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately it was too late to return to the embassy, and it was a Thursday.

    I returned to the embassy at 7:30am the following Sunday (the night of my flight), and informed them what had happened. Once again the security guard forwarded my details to the employees inside, only this time the response was “your visa is till under process and is not yet ready!” Why had they lied to me the pervious week? Why had they wasted my time waiting for a passport batch to arrive when my passport was not even sent out?

    When I explained to them that my flight was later that night and that I had a final year progress review that ultimately moves me up to my final year of PhD level, she coldly replied “well if your meeting what that important you should have paid for a VIP service” and ended the call. Excuse me? I could not believe what I was hearing! I was well within my rights to ask for my visa, the 15 working days limit were up. It had been 18 days, and this was all she had to say? I walked out the embassy thinking about how 3 years of my hard work was about to evaporate due to unorganized visa processes. I could not hold back my emotions when I burst into tears. I called the embassy from my mobile and I was obviously distraught; the employee on the end of the line worryingly asked “Ma’am are you a British citizen”, I replied “I wish I was if that would make you treat me better” I explained to her what had happened in detail, and how I was lied to about picking up my visa. She connected me to the person who informed to pick up my visa the pervious week, and he simply said “Sara I don’t remember me saying any of this”, but luckily it was the security guard he had spoken to, and I handed the security guard the phone and told her to remind him of what he had said perviously. After speaking to the security he may have ‘REMEMBERED’ the conversation, and informed me to wait while he checked my file. One hour later he informed me that I could pick up my visa at the VFS office. I set out to the VFS office after checked and rechecked with him that this time the passport will indeed be sent there. Hours later I had finally received my passport, and my visa.

    I’m sorry for the long post, but when I saw your post I just had to share my nightmare of an experience. Never in my entire life have I felt so helpless. Looking back now at this horrible experience I have a few suggests that I will simply put in bullet points.

    – The VFS must stick to the appointments they give to applicants
    – Returning students, or students that only require an extension should not be treated like first-time student. The border agency already has all previously required information.
    – A local visa call-centre should be implemented, instead of having people in Kuwait call the UK cal centre
    – The Al-Tijaria building is a not a suitable location. As someone mentioned, valet parking are always full, shuttle buses are sparse, and it’s too hot to walk a block away. Moreover the waiting rooms do not accommodate the large number of applicants that end up standing while they wait their turn
    – And most importantly be honest with applicants

    Once again, I apologize for the long post, and thank you Mr. Ambassador for your time.

    Warm regards,

    Sara Al-Ajmi

    • Matthew Lodge says:

      Sara,

      I am genuinely sorry to hear about what must have been a frustrating experience. Thank you for setting it out so clearly. From what you say, we fell short of the standards we set ourselves. If so, I can only apologise. I will look into this and respond.

  29. James says:

    Sara,
    What an ordeal! I congratulate you for maintaining your composure then and now and seeing yourself through. More importantly unethical behavior in terms of not meeting commitments and even lying! Looks like your episode highlights two things – this is a money racket and secondly the VFS personnel are courteous and doing their best while the staff who should have gone above and beyond seem unmotivated to try and go “above and beyond” even after escalations. If this is the British embassy, what right do we have to expect other nationals and embassies to be any different.

    I admire your perseverance in that situation – even it was out of desperation and you were fortunate you had a witness – its sad you needed that though. These are issues which I did not even expect from the world’s oldest industrialized civilization!

    Mr. Ambassador,
    I would encourage you to look at the summary from Sara for action if you want to effect change. Thanks,

  30. Assaf says:

    ALL the above valid comments aside. I would like to inform you mr ambassador that the negative image projected by this process overshadows any real and tangible benefit provided by the uk. Yes the average Kuwaiti is disconnected from the security and protection provided by the UK. Furthermore The intermediaries (not mentioning the company name due to legal issues) and their rude and inefficient continental staff have replaced the embassy and its british employees as being the face of Anglo-Kuwaiti ties. This is a failure that pioneers of this relationship such as lady Dixon would resent, and heroes like the honourable John major would never allow.

    • James says:

      Assaf,
      I think your comments are inappropriate and condescending. They (continental staff) do not reflect the description mentioned – I’m wondering if having Britons there and serving you high tea would satisfy you. They serve with a smile and try their best.

      This is just a process issue which I think the Ambassador is working hard to fix. Save the use of a few British names you know and tardy language (at best) for another arena. We need objective and constructive conversations.


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