Jonathan Fryer

Brexit and the Commonwealth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th October, 2016

jf-speaking-at-upf-conference-smallYesterday I was a keynote speaker at a conference on Cultural Diplomacy and the Commonwealth hosted by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in London. My brief was to address the consequences of Brexit for the Commonwealth; some Brexiteers had argued that leaving the EU would enable the UK to forge closer links, especially in trade, with countries such as Australia. But they glossed over the fact that whereas trade with the rest of the EU accounts for 44% of total UK trade that with Australia is only 1%, and the potential for great expansion is not there. Moreover, Australia has in recent decades recalibrated its own trading relationships to focus more on China and South East Asia.

During the referendum campaign, some UKIP supporters in the North of England were telling Muslims of Pakistani origin that after Brexit, EU migrants would no longer be able to come to the UK as a right and that therefore more people could come from Pakistan. But that flies in the face of the fact that the Conservative government is determined to reduce numbers of immigrants across the board. The prospects for Commonwealth students are discouraging as well, as Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that she will make it harder for students to come, which incidentally is economically illiterate as they are a big boost to the UK’s economy and should not be included in immigration figures at all.

Parts of the Commonwealth have done well out of Britain’s EU membership as African, Caribbean and Pacific nations were able to benefit from the Lomé Convention aid and trade deal and its successors. That has been especially useful for small and island countries. When Britain leaves the EU it will no longer be a champion for Commonwealth countries’ concerns over such matters as sugar and bananas. Although Malta and Cyprus will still be able to speak up, being both EU and Commonwealth members, their voice is inevitably weaker than that of Britain, as the Cyprus High Commissioner, Euripides Evriviades pointed out in a speech following my own at the UPF/ICD event. The Conservative government appears not to have fully taken into account how significant the impact will be of not having a seat at the EU table at the myriad ministerial and other meetings that take place, thereby seriously weakening the country’s influence. Furthermore, the withdrawal process from the EU and the subsequent complex bilateral trade negotiations between Britain and its trading partners are going to consume most of the government’s time and energy for years to come, as well as costing a great deal of money.

[photo by Euripides Evriviades]

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