The “Global Britain” myth

Published

Credit: George Hodan

Harry McNeill
Writer

The Glasgow Coordinator for ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ examines Britain’s trade prospects in a post-EU era

Figures like Liam Fox, the British Secretary of State for Trade, regularly highlight reasons we should be leaving the EU through statements such as “90% of global economic growth will come from outside the EU”. At first glance, it may sound like one of those “£350-million-a week-to-the-NHS” Brexiteer truisms; but in fact, this statistic actually appears on the EU’s own website. The argument goes that Britain should seize the opportunity to look beyond the European bloc and strike trade deals with the rapidly growing economies of the world to make a truly “Global Britain”. Indeed, when compared to some of the more hysterical rhetoric we have heard in recent years, it makes for a sober argument – certainly one worthy of consideration.

Britain was initially due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, but this is to be extended by a “yet-to-be-determined” period of time. As the debate rumbles on, hard-line Brexiteers argue for the need to leave the single market and the customs union to therefore “free Britain” from the shackles of Europe and become ready to face the world independently. Yet, like the Brexit project itself, their optimism is fundamentally misguided – here’s why.

Although it may seem obvious, it is important to emphasise that we already trade with countries far beyond the shores of Europe. As a member of the EU, Britain benefits from over 40 free-trade deals with 70 countries globally – notably striking trade deals with major economies, like Japan and Canada, in recent years. A further 21 deals are in the midst of negotiations, including with China and the United States.

With the Brexit clock relentlessly ticking, Britain is now desperately attempting to replicate the 40 free-trade arrangements that we benefit from as part of the EU. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone to plan. Recent leaks have shown Britain to be considerably behind schedule, with no possibility of efforts being completed in time for the scheduled Brexit leaving day. Exactly how far behind we are is unknown, as this information is rather conveniently “commercially sensitive”, according to our esteemed Trade Secretary. With negotiations hitting choppy waters, the delusions of Global Britain have been brought to the fore in recent months in a not so untimely way. Japan is refusing to roll over the agreement they made with the EU to post-Brexit Britain and are instead seeking big concessions. Furthermore, in the last week, the United States released its conditions for a free-trade agreement which notably seeks a considerable reduction in our food safety standards to suit the powerful US agricultural lobby.

The reason for this? The United Kingdom contains a market of 66 million. A post-Brexit European Union houses a market of 450 million. If you were say, China, what market would have greater leverage against you in negotiations? What market would you prioritise to reach an agreement with? Perhaps a quote from Liverpool FC manager, Jurgen Klopp, can provide a bit of guidance for Brexiteers: “history taught us that if you are alone, you are weaker than the unit”. It is remarkably simple. The Conservatives have long championed themselves as a party of commerce, yet you do not need to be Alan Sugar to realise that the Brexit business plan is built on sand.

It is now clearer than ever that the purveyors of “Global Britain” are charlatans who have put their own delusions of grandeur ahead of the national interest. Young people, like myself, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, could soon be tasked with cleaning up the mess of an older generation. Yet it is not too late and Brexit is not inevitable. With a long delay looking ever more likely, it is crucial that young people who voted remain get involved with the campaign for a People’s Vote to avert a national disaster.

If you are interested in getting involved with ‘Our Future, Our Choice’, follow @OFOC_GLASGOW on Twitter for more information.