The UK government has made it clear time and time again – Brexit means Brexit. From Theresa May’s recent speech, the UK will be leaving the European single market and exploring trading opportunities with nations outside of the EU, with a strong focus on the Commonwealth.
Since the issue of EU membership became highly discussed a few years ago, the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation has campaigned for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This is not because of preferences towards nationalism or anti-EU governance, but simply because immigration policy (as part of the EU) would not be compatible with the aims and objectives of securing free movement with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. With immigration policy controlled by Brussels, emphasis would be heavily placed on free movement within the 28 nation bloc rather than within the Commonwealth.
However, June 2016 brought about a decisive vote for UK independence, and more importantly for our campaign, the ability to forge new immigration policy with our closest allies in the Commonwealth.
But what does this mean for freedom of movement with Canada, Australia and New Zealand?
Firstly, and with great emphasis, our campaign is decisively on course and making tremendous progress. Given the nature of negotiations and political procedures, it will take time, but rest assured, the groundwork for free movement between our four nations is underway.
At the end of 2016, leaked documents from the UK government revealed post-Brexit plans to create a “prosperity zone” with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which could signify the first steps towards free trade agreements and eventually, freedom of movement…
And this week alone, New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, has encouraged the strengthening of trade relationships with the UK once Article 50 is imposed, with Canadian negotiators also requesting talks to begin as soon as possible.
There is no doubt that given the UK’s economic (and indeed, global) stature, trade negotiations will begin as soon as possible, and our close friends in Australia, Canada and New Zealand will be eager to conclude negotiations swiftly. It is then we can begin the hard work of negotiating visa liberalisation and freedom of movement.
Free movement of people so often accompanies free trade arrangements; just look at the European Union and the Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement between Australia and New Zealand. Where the free movement of good and services exists, it is common place to adopt the free movement of people to encourage transferability of skills and capital across nations, thereby promoting innovation, investment and economic growth.
With our shared ancestry, culture, language and Head of State, it is “economic common sense” (in the words of former Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott) to adopt freedom of movement as a complimentary regulation of free trade between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiating free trade agreements are terrific, but negotiating freedom of movement to compliment free trade is the icing on the cake which our four nations will long for.
In the mean time, the negotiations for free trade will begin upon the implementation of Article 50 – most likely to occur in March.
However, there is no doubt that once trade agreements begin to finalise, the issue of visa liberalisation will be discussed, and the potential for free movement between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will become the hot topic in international affairs.
As the UK says goodbye to the EU, a bright future awaits our four nations…and it all begins with the first negotiations towards free trade.