Post-Brexit Britain’s trade policy must have the Commonwealth at its heart
With its buoyant economic prospects, the Commonwealth should be the first stop on Britain’s return to the global stage, writes Andrew Rosindell MP
Britain will soon return to the world stage as a truly independent, sovereign nation after 45 years of entanglement in Europe. Brexit is not an isolationist or nativist spasm, but a unique opportunity to become a truly global trading nation once again. And where better to start than by rebuilding our long-neglected ties with the Commonwealth, a worldwide network which makes up a third of the Earth’s population?
The Commonwealth is far more than an imperial leftover. This association of former colonies has grown into a truly modern and diverse network of 53 countries, linked by their shared history and cultural ties.
In contrast to the EU, Commonwealth cooperation is based on voluntary collaboration on specific issues, with each member country retaining the option to opt in or out of agreements.
The UK’s exit from the EU means that we are now able to take full advantage of the economic opportunities that our ties with Commonwealth nations offer. We will have our own independent trade policy and be able to strike trade deals across the globe, without being limited by the lengthy processes of ratification which slow down or even kill off new agreements.
Trade between Commonwealth countries is already worth half a trillion dollars. That number is only set to increase. At a time when many economies around the world are stagnating, most Commonwealth countries are growing at a dramatic speed.
Our deep connections to Commonwealth friends should be utilised to strike bilateral and multilateral trade deals which mutually benefit both the UK and our partners abroad.
Unlike the outdated structures of the European Union, the Commonwealth doesn’t seek to exercise political control over its members. Trade deals with Commonwealth countries wouldn’t require the handing over of legal or regulatory powers to unaccountable bodies, but would instead be based on the consent of Parliament and the governments involved.
The Government’s recent announcement of £2.5m funding for the Commonwealth Standards Network, which will help break down non-tariff barriers between Commonwealth countries, is a perfect example of these sorts of agreements. It encourages free-trade and close ties between Commonwealth countries based on a system of partnership, rather than political union or centralisation.
The Government must build on these programmes and the numerous trade continuity agreements already signed by the Department for International Trade to ensure that post-Brexit Britain’s modern and outward-looking international trade policy has the Commonwealth at its heart.
But trade is not the only issue where our exit from the European Union enables new possibilities for collaboration with the Commonwealth. After years of discriminating in favour of European citizens, a fairer, more global immigration system will allow Britain to take the best of the Commonwealth as well as Europe after Brexit.
The history and values that Commonwealth members share, as well as the long history of Commonwealth immigration to this country, mean that Commonwealth immigrants can often integrate even faster and contribute more than European immigrants.
Commonwealth citizens who are willing to integrate and contribute to British society should be enthusiastically welcomed under any new global immigration system after Brexit.
Other issues, such as dealing with climate change, defence cooperation or even clamping down on tax evasion are all areas where Britain should take an active role in the Commonwealth, pushing for broad, multilateral treaties to solve these global issues.
We must go out into the world post-Brexit with confidence and the ambition to be a truly global nation once again. The Commonwealth should be at the heart of that new foreign policy, as a brilliant vehicle to encourage multilateral cooperation between independent, sovereign nations with shared history, values and ambitions.
Andrew Rosindell is Conservative MP for Romford and chair of the APPG for the Commonwealth