Article first published on The Commentator
Global Britain Could Lead the Commonwealth – if May Doesn’t Bungle Brexit
Great Britain used to have global reach and influence like no other nation on earth. But in 1973 we gave up much of this to join what was then the Common Market. Come midnight on March 29th 2019, when we finally Leave the European Union, Britain can once again become truly global, reaffirming our place atop the Commonwealth, and striking new and lasting deals with emerging economies.
In August, the Prime Minister pledged a sum total of £4 billion of investment for growing African economies, as well as deepening economic and trading ties. By re-engaging with rising stars like South Africa, Britain can enhance its economic capabilities and significantly boost post-Brexit trade. Other African nations will also be beneficial. Nigeria, for example, is Britain’s 2nd largest trading partner on the continent. There are many exciting opportunities to be embraced once Britain unshackles herself from the protectionist EU bloc.
The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people on 5 continents around the world. Member countries range from India to Canada to the Seychelles and the Bahamas. In terms of population size, GDP growth, and diversity of people and geography, the European Union does not come close. These basic facts helped to blow apart the arguments of Project Fear when they screech about losing our main economic partners, becoming an insular country, and rejecting international collaborations.
They are wrong on every point.
As long as we leave the Common External Tariff, we will be able to strike our own bilateral or multilateral trade agreements with whomever we please, without having to first negotiate the terms with 27 other disparate nations. This new freedom to be found outside the Customs Union, will be prosperous for UK consumers and manufacturers, and people and business all over the world, but especially with Commonwealth countries.
By their own estimations, the combined GDP of Commonwealth countries is $10 trillion, with this predicted to rise to $13 trillion by 2020. The greatest reason to invest in this market is its growth: half of the world’s top 20 emerging cities are in Commonwealth nations, with average annual GDP growth surpassing that of the EU, which has been stuck in economic malaise for years. India alone is expected to grow at a rate of 7.4% in 2018, making it the fastest growing major economy.
Imagine if we were able to strike Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with these nations. Britain can offer them our world class services – including education – in return for cheaper food and manufactured products. It’s a win-win opportunity. In fact, Commonwealth nations already get more for their money when they trade amongst each other: it is approximately 19% cheaper than non-Commonwealth nations.
It is not merely the fact of the Commonwealth’s economic potential, but the already existing, ingrained commonalities between these nations and Britain which will ease future negotiations. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are amongst our closest allies – we share not just a monarch, but a language, a culture, and a commitment to liberal democracy.
These shared traits and institutions help us twofold.
Firstly, they encourage any trade agreement to be based on mutual trust and respect, and a genuine desire for reciprocal success.
Secondly, we have similar legal systems, the same language and understanding of one another’s political institutions, a great deal of the burden which comes with negotiating FTAs is reduced.
This is especially important to Britain, as it is essentially building a trade negotiating team from scratch, having been forced to let Brussels do all the work in in this department for the last 50 years.
Many of those who subscribed fully to ‘Project Fear’, use the EU’s lengthy negotiating process for FTAs as a reason to stay shackled to the Single Market and imprisoned by their external tariff wall.
The Comprehensive Economic and Free Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada took 10 years to negotiate, and despite being signed in 2014, is still in a provisional phase of application! This will come as no surprise then, as any trade deal made by the EU has to square all the various ‘wish lists’ of each of the 27 Member States.
More can be done much faster on a bilateral level, as Australia has shown. Though vast in size, this island has a population of only 25 million – yet it plays on the global field. Since the 1980s, Australia has struck FTAs with New Zealand, Singapore, the United States, Japan and China. The average time for these negotiations has been a couple of years – not the decade-plus it takes for the EU to sign off a deal!
We have three times the population of Australia, and twice the GDP – if Australia can be a global player then so can Great Britain – and even more so. We just need freedom from the EU and the confidence to do it. This is why it is vital for us to leave the Customs Union, prepare for a ‘No-Deal’ scenario, and ensure our International Trade Department is world class.
Unfortunately, Theresa May’s ‘Chequers proposal’ sees Britain seeking to keep us tethered to the Brussels’ quagmire and effectively turning its back on the Commonwealth, as well as effectively limiting the opportunities throughout the world for our expansion into trade for a ‘Global Britain’. The proposal of a ‘common rulebook’ on goods and agriculture means following EU regulations indefinitely – without having any say in their creation. This puts an independent trade policy in jeopardy. The new Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, for example, showed a reluctance to accept the Chequers proposal when he was the Treasurer of Australia. This might well prevent the much-desired FTA with his country.
If the Chequers proposal is eventually accepted by the EU, Global Britain will become a mere pipedream, and the control the Great British Public voted for in the EU Referendum will be overshadowed in the name of the status quo, shackling us to the EU for the foreseeable future.
It is vitally important to spread the message of optimism to counter the naysayers on the Remain side. All their lies, scaremongering and ‘Project Fear’ miscalculations must be laid bare. The Great British Public are not stupid. They were fully aware of what they were voting for in June 2016 – for freedom and to Get Britain Out of the EU. When we said we’d ‘take back control’, we meant it – whether the Commonwealth showed such potential or not. Fortunately for us, there is a booming market ready for Global Britain around the world for us to tap into and be rewarded for, for many many years to come.
The Prime Minister and the Government just need the guts to go after it.
Jayne Adye is Director at cross-party, grassroots campaign Get Britain Out