This article was first published on Comment Central.
‘Pulling up the drawbridge’ was the metaphor used by ‘remainers’ throughout the EU Referendum campaign. They argued an independent United Kingdom would be isolated on the global stage. This claim was dubious at the time, and over the last seven months proven even more so.
Countries have been queuing up to initiate trade negotiations with the UK since the Brexit vote. They can see what Remainers cannot: the opportunities Brexit has thrown up. An opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in trade, signing trade deals with countries throughout the globe, and providing more jobs for the UK and our trading partners.
Since the election of US President Donald Trump, an Anglo-American trade deal has been the clearest signal of the opportunities available to our post-Brexit nation. Trump and Theresa May are both shouting from the rooftops about our ‘special relationship’ and a future trade deal. Anthony Scaramucci – an advisor to President Trump – has even suggested the deal could be agreed within 12 months.
The Commonwealth also seems very keen to negotiate deals with Britain. Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and Sri Lanka are all expressing their intentions.
Britain’s historic partner Australia has been particularly optimistic. Australia’s High Commissioner, Alexander Downer, claims it is possible for the UK and Australia to agree a deal soon after Britain leaves the EU. Perhaps more strikingly, the former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, has made a passionate case for a comprehensive trade deal in his foreword to a recent report by the Free Enterprise Group.
Australia’s close neighbour, New Zealand, has already made representations via its Prime Minster, Bill English, when he visited the UK and made his intentions clear. Following a meeting with Theresa May he spoke of his wish to see a ‘high quality’ Free Trade Agreement which would be negotiated ‘as soon as possible’.
Another Commonwealth country, Canada, has been in touch. Canada’s Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, has recently spoken of the ‘affinity’ between the UK and Canada. He spoke about the importance of a trade deal, and was optimistic about negotiating one.
South African trade minister Rob Davies is even calling for negotiations to begin as soon as possible. This will possibly draw the ire of Brussels, who claim EU law forbids UK trade negotiations with non-EU countries pre-Brexit. It is important to note however, this is heavily disputed. Many argue EU law simply forbids the implementation of any agreement, rather than the negotiation itself.
In 2015 former Chancellor, George Osborne famously hailed a ‘golden decade’ in UK-China relations. He was unable to fulfil his dreams, but an independent Britain might. In the Prime Minister’s recent Lancaster House speech, Theresa May said China had already expressed an intention to negotiate a trade deal. Something Osborne was prohibited from doing under EU rules.
South America’s Mercosur bloc consists of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. Striking a free trade deal with Mercosur would give the UK preferential access to all of these markets. And positive noises are already coming from South American countries about a deal.
And other Latin American countries don’t want to be left out. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos recently had a state visit to the UK with Theresa May. He argued for a more comprehensive trade deal between the UK and Colombia than the current EU-Colombia deal. Mexico has gone even further. Luis Videgaray, Mexico’s Finance Minister, has announced that Mexico has already drafted a UK trade deal to be ratified after the UK formally leaves the EU.
Omar Bahlaiwa, the Secretary General of the Saudi Committee for International Trade, has recently outlined the approach of the Gulf States in an article for City AM. He wrote ‘As Britain’s departure from the European Union draws closer, concern over the country’s economic prosperity is mounting. It shouldn’t. Britain has long-standing allies in the Gulf who will work hard to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement that benefits all.’
Closer to home Switzerland – a European country outside the EU – also wants a trade deal to become effective the moment Brexit occurs. Johann Schneider-Ammann, Switzerland’s Economy Minister, said ‘my objective is clear. Not one day should pass after Britain’s exit (from the EU) without new regulations in place.
Let’s not forget the EU either. We are of course leaving the EU, but this does not mean we will stop trading with its Member States. The Government’s position is now clear; it wants access to the Single Market through a free trade deal, but not membership of it. Having access allows the UK to have control over its laws, borders and money – membership does not.
And it doesn’t end there. Many other countries around the world, such as Chile, Iceland, Norway, Peru and Thailand, to name just a few, have also expressed intentions to sign free trade deals with the UK. Three countries – Israel, Turkey and South Korea – have already set up trade taskforces to start negotiating. So, it looks as if there will be few countries not willing to strike trade deals with Brexit Britain.
None of this can be achieved however, until we Get Britain Out of both the EU and its Customs Union. While we are still members of the EU, it has the exclusive right to negotiate trade deals. Therefore, the triggering of Article 50 by the end of March will be the beginning of a ‘Global Britain’ – the world is our oyster.