Now the U.K has voted to leave the European Union it can look beyond its immediate neighbourhood to a new horizon of global opportunities, starting with the Commonwealth.
Once the Prime Minister fired the starting pistol for the referendum campaign, I, like many others, took the streets, and slowly began to meet swathes of people planning to vote leave. It was often joked on the campaign trail that it was difficult to find a person that had as much enthusiasm for voting Remain as an impassioned Leaver. But even as I went round houses, I would often see Remain posters, proudly plastered over people’s houses, the sight of which was disconcerting. The polls were close, with Remain consistently ahead if not tied, which fuelled doubts of victory. A Walsall resident turned to me whilst I was on the campaign trail a few weeks before polling day, ‘Mate, I don’t fancy our chances, do you?’
“Well”, I replied slightly exasperated, “I wouldn’t put a bet on us winning,” (which incidentally a lot of people didn’t). Doubt gnawed at us, and victory seemed a difficult ask.
But, on the night when the boxes were opened it became clear; the passion we saw in Leave voters had motivated them to turn out, and turn out in huge droves. The largest lead to Leave was in the West Midlands, with 1,755,687 people voting leave. Even Birmingham – a gorgeous colourful tapestry of multicultural, multiracial, multi-faith vibrancy – and it had decisively said No to the European Project. This rejects the defaming notion from many Remainers than only xenophobes voted Leave, when any proud Brummie will proudly rub shoulders with anyone, (so long as they support the Villa).
The polls were wrong then, the betting agents’ wrong, and the pundits wrong. So now Leave has won, what happens next? It’s a genuine question to pose now we find ourselves in unchartered waters. What direction does Britain now charter? David Cameron believes he is not the best captain to steer the ship to a new destination, so he has resigned, and for this the PM deserves respect and admiration.
As Britain negotiates it’s amicable release from the suffocating chains of the European Union, we may feel an immediate sense of loss, but very soon after we will feel a great sense of liberation. By voting leave Britain has gone from being restricted to a shrinking economic continent to being liberated to the potentials of a growing globe.
As such, at the centre of any plan by the new government and its new captain, must be the imperative to form a progressive, liberal, welcoming and truly Global Britain. The defining principle of that must be trade and the first call for the new government should be our Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is rapidly growing compared to the ailing Eurozone. In 2004 it overtook the Eurozone in share of global GDP. We have therefore, left one market that is shrinking, to be released to the potential of entering another that is booming. A policy of free trade across the Commonwealth should form the basis of a reformed and more powerful role of Secretary-General, which should be supported by a team of Ministers and Whitehall civil servants.
The present Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, is an inspirational woman that defines the greatest bits of internationalist Britishness. Born in Dominica to a Dominican Mother and Antiguan father, she arrived on British shores at the young age of 2 years of age. She attended a technical college, attained a law degree and become a significant figure in the Blair government. As Secretary-General of the Commonwealth her compassion, enthusiasm and passion must be utilised to reenergise a new trade relationship with our friends in the commonwealth.
This new trading partnership with the commonwealth should never look greedily to a political union, as the European Union did. It should, however, have some defining features and objectives.
Firstly, it should not seek to solely benefit the largest states but cater for the 32 smaller states. These have the inherent economic disadvantage of having smaller markets, which impedes their ability to create jobs and opportunities for their citizens. A free trade agreement with these smaller member nations would open up huge markets in Britain, Canada, India, and Australia, which would benefit Britain’s and other’s domestic growth.
The second challenge is one of investment. Large economies should open up their lending propensities to smaller nations from large private companies like British, Canadian and Australian banks. This would ensure that finance is accessible to further develop infrastructure, and enable a standardised Commonwealth template to stream in foreign investment.
Thirdly, many commonwealth countries have the advantage of being rich in natural resources, from minerals, oils and gas. Commonwealth countries contribute 17% of the world’s natural gas production. Whist considering climate change and environmental challenges, free trade agreements could help bolster production and access to these resources for British consumers.
The next challenge is a free trade agreement with India. Due to regaining control of our own trade policy, Britain can be free to sit down with our historic friends in India and seek out a trading partnership that together could help lead the Commonwealth. In return, Britain could form a significant and special relationship with India. As a display of solidarity British diplomatic expertise and skills should be utilised to fast track India’s ambitions to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Vital to Britain’s global ambitions is our relationship with the United States. Together we work well on foreign policy, on our shared leading role in NATO, and on diplomatic efforts across the world; an example of which is the expected talks about the South China Sea, which China has petitioned for the UK to broker. Continuing and even emphasising the special relationship between the UK and US is now extremely vital for stability across Europe, the west and elsewhere. It is therefore in America’s interest to turbo-charge bilateral trade talks with the UK. Although an Obama administration may find it difficult to navigate the ‘back of the queue’ aspiration, it should certainly lay the groundwork, which the next administration could complete. To maximise the benefits of the bilateral talks they should occur at the same time that Britain negotiates with Brussels on its exit terms. This would set an example to Brussels, forcing it to reflect on its own trading policies. The added benefit is it could undermine the protectionist policies that France continues to cling to. It is this French attitude that has stifled trade talks between the EU and the US.
Thus, the challenge that Britain now faces is huge.
It must create a trading partnership on a truly global scale, which empowers developing nations to grow even further. It must be built on cooperation and collaboration, at its heart friendly trade, which could be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Not only will smaller nations of the Commonwealth reap the rewards of a Commonwealth Trading Agreement but so to will an internationalist Britain.
Great Britain should therefore be ready to start leading global partnerships, not leaving them. A whole new world awaits us and with it a world of opportunity. It is now up to Britain to seize them.