For too long, Britain has neglected her Commonwealth allies. After Brexit, it’s time to change that.
Brexit means Brexit. We, “the 48 per cent”, can mourn as much as we like, but Britain voted to leave the European Union in a fair, democratic vote, and the only question now must be how exactly we break out. Do we battle to stay a part of the single market à la Norway and accept EU open border policies and excessive regulations? For me, a Remain voter, the answer is “no”. We need to stop crying over the end of our difficult relationship, fix our hair and get back in the game; get over our Chris Brown and start flirting with our Drake.
The European project has failed for the UK, but we can still be an internationalist nation whilst maintaining the sovereignty that was the defining issue for many Brexit voters. The vote to leave the EU was not a vote against international trade or a call for Britain to relinquish its place at the top table of global politics; indeed, it was a rally against “ever closer union” of the kind Britain has always been sceptical of: the 1980s brain-child of European imperialists. For the older generation, who have been cruelly blasted in the referendum fallout, a vote to leave was a vote for a return to the EU’s original aims: to co-exist peacefully as an amiable trading bloc.
The answer is the Commonwealth: a bloc of 53 mostly ex-British territories. Many share common legal systems, languages, and history. Arguably most importantly, the nations span Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australasia, and North America: the Commonwealth has an easy global reach.
The European Union is the largest trade bloc in the world, but what us Remainers often ignore is that it’s also the only declining trade bloc in the world. Its share of global GDP is collapsing (the Commonwealth’s is growing) and we actually export more to Commonwealth nations than we do to the European Union. The IMF forecasts that by 2019 the Commonwealth will contribute 17.7 per cent of the world’s GDP, compared to the EU’s 15.3 per cent.
Counting the UK as a Commonwealth nation, rather than an EU one, the Commonwealth has as many of the world’s top 15 economies (in GDP per capita) as the EU does: Canada, Australia, India and Britain. India’s growth rate of 7.5 per cent in the last economic year makes it one of the globe’s rising economic powers, and yet membership of the EU has prevented Britain from being able to agree a free trade deal with its Commonwealth partner. In fact, EU trade regulations stalled an EU-India deal for seven years – it still hasn’t been signed.
Indeed, EU policy has had a distortive impact on African countries, many of whom are also Commonwealth states. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy keeps food prices in Europe high thanks to an organised common strategy, whilst dumping the excess goods on African markets – leading to suppressed prices; African farmers can’t compete and high tariffs on EU imports from Africa are actually preventing the continent from trading its way out of poverty. Forming individual Commonwealth trade links with Africa would coincide with Chinese investment and the formation of a bloc could even achieve some diffusion of tensions between hostile African states.
Besides, the captains of the EU’s sinking ship apparently want to punish the UK for opting out. Some French politicians are calling for the abolition of UK border checks on their shared border in Calais – which could cause a huge increase in illegal immigration and potentially harm many refugees that chance the dangerous crossing to Britain. The German Vice Chancellor recently suggested quite openly that Britain must take responsibility for its decision. Italy is relishing its chance to succeed Britain and become the third most important EU member, and will surely oppose any British efforts to take back European influence.
However slim the margin of victory may have been, the UK voted to leave the European Union, and to backtrack on that would surely cause already volatile markets yet more confusion; for all the warnings pro-Remain politicians gave us, markets have ridden the tide of destabilising Brexit-vote. Winston Churchill famously said, “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.” It doesn’t get more open, it doesn’t get more internationalist, and right now it doesn’t get more prosperous than the Commonwealth.