UK government ministers are planning to spark trade deals with Commonwealth countries in a move which has been criticised as an ‘Empire 2.0’ by sceptical MPs.
International Trade Secretary (a newly created position in the wake of Brexit) Liam Fox has centred his attention on the 52 nations comprising the former British Empire, which has proven to be controversial. Aside from the neo-colonial undertones, ethical concerns have been raised towards how the UK will approach the fragile status of democracy within some of these countries, particularly the several African nations included in the plans.
Former Indian Minister of State, Shashi Tharoor, whose book Inglorious Empire details his concern over the UK government’s intentions, claims that the term ‘Empire 2.0’ will “go down like a lead balloon” considering the frequently atrocious colonial history still within living memory in many of these Commonwealth countries, in an interview with LBC Drive.
However, after a meeting with Fox and his ministers last Thursday, Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo left on an optimistic note, rejecting any suggestion of the UK holding any dubious motives.
Australia’s trade deals with the EU are repeatedly delayed due to disagreements among the EU countries, and the Australian ministers’ patience is running thin. The UK has offered the country the possibility of a quick and painless deal, surely an attractive prospect considering the EU trade deal was meant to be completed by last year.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding these meetings. Fox is hoping to create a bright new chapter in the Brexit narrative, which up until now has been arguably unimpressive.
Considering that 44 per cent of UK exports went to the 27 nations of the EU in 2015, versus a mere 9.5 per cent exports going to Commonwealth countries, it is understandable that there has been tension surrounding Brexit negotiations. Nonetheless, despite this, there is still an air of optimism – although the UK is unlikely to achieve an agreement with the Commonwealth countries as economically beneficial as our current standing.
While the Commonwealth countries may not be able to replace the EU, many are enthusiastic that they pave the way to trade deals with the bigger nations such as China and the US. In an interview last Tuesday with The Financial Times, Barrister Patricia Scotland urged that: “There’s a diamond here and we are not picking it up.”
This is the chance the British ministers have been waiting for to prove their capacity to maintain the country’s financial stability post-Brexit. This is clearly no black-and-white political trade deal; British ministers must be extremely sensitive if they are to be successful. This is their chance to demonstrate their capability, so let’s just hope they do.
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