It’s been over two years since the divisive Brexit vote, and the polarisation of the electorate has never been starker. With Brexit officially 6 months away, Britain’s future relationship with its largest trading partner is still amorphous. Yet many of the prominent Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan believe that Britain is better off forming new economic ties with countries outside of the EU, particularly with developing countries. They also believe that the creation of common external tariffs by the EU customs union prevents Britain from freely trading with the world on its terms.
‘Global Britain’ was set up by the government to help address the shifting global context and to show that Britain is an outward-looking country ready to conduct business, but still have a good relationship with the EU after Brexit. Theresa May said in her speech over a year ago that ‘June the 23rd … was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain’. In fact, she used the word ‘global’ almost 15 times, thereby stressing the need for Britain to adapt to a new age. An age where emerging markets are becoming the new engines of global economic growth. When looking at world exports of goods and services, the share emerging markets contributed doubled between the 1990’s and 2006, reaching a massive 30%. It’s therefore easy to see the appeal for some of leaving an economically stagnant EU in favour of relations elsewhere. But how realistic is this idea of ‘Global Britain’? Will countries across the world welcome Britain’s eager openness? What will Britain have to do to attract the business and talent it sorely needs after Brexit?
‘Global Britain’ is especially keen on strengthening ties with countries with which Britain has had historical ties. India for example is a major trading and investment destination. After bilateral trade talks between India and the EU had stalled, India may only go back to the negotiating table with the EU until after Brexit. Britain receives the most of India-EU trade and investment, as well as the fact that they’re the second largest job creator in Britain. So, it is understandable why both are willing to hash out a mutually beneficial deal. However, India wants to see a loosening in immigration rules to allow more Indians, particularly students to enter Britain. The requirement to loosen immigration rules is shared by other countries like Australia. This is particularly contentious for the ruling Conservative Party, who have consistently missed their migration targets, despite promising that the number of migrants to the UK will fall. With the promise of reduced immigration post-Brexit given to the electorate by the Leave campaign, it seems the only way to strike much needed free trade deals is to go back on this pledge. Furthermore, countries like the US and China have a much stronger negotiating position, forcing Britain to concede further to get the deals it wants. There was major uproar after the news that American chlorinated chicken could soon enter the UK post-Brexit due to the need to soften regulations on food hygiene potentially being part of a deal. As well as this, the Chinese could petition for more lenient overseas investment screenings after expressing concern about the current changes.
It seems, therefore, that due to Britain’s weak negotiating position, they’ll have to make major concessions that’ll go against the key promises used during the referendum, which will risk alienating more people who will fail to see any benefit from exiting an exclusive economic club which they’ve greatly benefited from. ‘Global Britain’ will have to be more acquiescent and less facile in order to recuperate from any expected losses from exiting the EU (with or without a deal).
The idea of Britain ‘going it alone’, which echoes back to the war-time spirit continues to resonate with current, particularly older generations. The firm conviction that Britain is able to strike deals by itself may be true, but the likelihood of getting a favourable deal is small, no matter how ‘global’ Britain portrays itself. Nevertheless, many countries are showing tangible interest in making a deal with Britain, which deserves some approbation. It is a testament that despite the messy negotiations between the EU and Britain, despite the looming uncertainty, and despite the domestic turmoil caused by the referendum, Britain has always remained ‘global’ and has strong global links which will continue to be relied upon heavily – now more than ever.