The Brexit debate has been monopolised by the focus on how the future EU-UK relationship will function, or not function, as the case may be. Despite the mass use of time and effort, not much has been fleshed out. As such, as we approach Brexit Day, we must examine the time we have left and see how best to use it.
It would be democratically illegal and immoral to defer Article 50, irrespective of how legal it may be under EU law: British democracy has predated the EU – indeed it has predated nearly any European democracy – and as such the uncodified agreement between HM’s Government and the People must remain intact. This is a vital part of any democracy’s health. Irrespective of our position on Brexit, it must continue and everybody needs to work together on it: the institutions of a democracy must be upheld, even at personal pain, for Democracy to thrive.
Although some may still be opposed to Brexit and may be unswayed by the pugilistic positions of the European Commissioners, it cannot be argued that remaining in the EU is more important than Democracy. Similarly, postponing Article 50 (which is enacted into law and is not arbitrary as the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary understands it to be) is also wrong as it undermines public confidence that the government will do the right thing and puts the nation at risk of cancelling Brexit altogether. It is a slippery slope upon which we must not place ourselves.
With that topic settled, we move back to our original topics: How should we best use our remaining time? The ‘Other Brexit Department’, Department for International Trade (also known as the ‘No Deal Brexit Department’) has done excellent work behind the scenes to ensure that the UK has a survivable network for contingency in international trade. This is often merely ensuring that all previous trade agreements between the UK and other nations via the EU are grandfathered in as the UK leaves the EU. This is to ensure the nation can enjoy continued seamless trade with third-party nations as we leave the EU.
Nevertheless, current EU trade relationships have many issues. The arduous and complicated process of getting a trade agreement with the EU is now being endured by the British nation. If we are unhappy and unsatisfied with the process, considering the clout we bring to the negotiating table, it is highly likely that other, weaker and less powerful nations and groups are pushed even more to sign one-sided trading agreements. Such treaties will hardly be wanted by nations with whom the UK wishes to sign trade agreements with. That means that any grandfathering in of trade agreements will almost certainly be wanted to replaced in the near future with a renegotiated and more equitable agreement. That would require time and effort by the UK’s extremely small team of negotiators who would be further overwhelmed by the sheer number of trade agreements which need to be renegotiated, irrespective of the amount of trade conducted under the agreement, or the value of the committee.
So where should the limited time of the DfIT and Foreign & Commonwealth Office be used? Where should the Prime Minister go on foreign trips? How should we seek to find the best solution to the UK’s need for close allies and trading partners in the Post-Brexit world?
Efficiency is important in many aspects of life, and for nations, this is the same. Friends are also important in life, and the same can be applied to nations. The UK has had a wide variety of foreign policies and a number of nations have continually stood with us. In many cases, these nations can be classified as Commonwealth Realms, or member-states, although there are a number of nations who are not. Other nations have provided assistance, while not providing actual military help. An example could be during the Falklands War: New Zealand provided a frigate, the US provided an oil tanker full of jet fuel. Britain’s two traditional key South American allies, Brazil and Chile, provided various levels of assistance.
While Brazil provided a safe landing for diverting RAF Vulcan bombers during the Black Buck raids, Chile’s role was valuable. Publicly they had to declare complete neutrality, but privately, they provided all intelligence and support which could be secretly provided. This included setting up a secret base for the SAS with long-range radar and a helicopter detachment. When one of the British helicopters crashed, the Chilean government set up a cover story, and when a journalist tried to dig a little deeper General & President Pinochet’s men met the journalist, who was left “shook up, but alive”. To this was added the existence of the Chilean Army, guarding the Argentinian border. Argentina viewed this to be such a threat they then did not deploy their regular forces to the Falklands. With only their poorly trained conscripts in the Falklands, the Royal Marine Commandos and Paratroopers were able to conclusively defeat the Argentine Army and liberate the islands.
Unsurprisingly, the UK has just signed a trade continuity deal with Chile, weeks after signing one with Israel. This means that trade will carry on as usual post Brexit.
When dealing with trade, it is important to remember that governments do not make up the majority of international trade. Such trade is performed primarily by individuals. HM’s government has little need to import wine from Australia, although comments about considerable alcohol consumption by senior members of the EU Commission frequently surface, the public does. And it is the public, by and large, who decide what is traded by what they purchase. If Britons decreased purchases of German cars by 5%, a similar drop in car imports from Germany would soon follow.
Because individuals consume, this drives trade and is one of the main reasons why some nations trade more goods than others. Another is government regulation. If a quota is set up, such as the EU one on agricultural products from India and Kenya, trade is clearly limited to a certain cap. Tariffs make imported goods from certain nations more expensive. This can be against Chinese steel entering the US, or Cambodian rice entering the Common Market; both on grounds that they are too cheap.
However, trade can be overemphasised. There have been numerous articles written against CANZUK and Commonwealth Economic Integration on the basis on the size of trade. The UK trades more with the EU than with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Yet the sheer amount of goods and services traded does not completely sum up the calculations or automatically guarantee alliances. It has often been pointed out that if the US built its allies on the rubric of who it traded with, China would be their No. 1 partner. This is clearly not the case and any suggestion that the US should shift its alliances away from NATO to China would be rightly decried as ludicrous. If one examines the top five nations from whom the US receives its imports, they are all nations with whom the US has been at war with and still today does not have the best relationship with. They are; China, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Germany. Only one of those nations is a key American ally, and that is its fellow Anglosphere partner Canada.
To amend the saying of a well known US President “Hey, it’s not just the economy, stupid”.
For that reason, the Post-Brexit UK must realise that while trade agreements are indeed key to continuing day to day business on the micro scale, a different tool is needed for the successful long-term continuity of an island nation. That tool is partly pointed and sharp and partly an understanding.
We are living in exciting times. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, there are confrontations between powers of varying strengths. For the first time since the beginning of the First World War, we see multi-sided clashes between Super, Great, and Regional Great powers. Syria is an excellent example with the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran all having a great deal of power in Syria’s future and for the first time since 1945, it is not a simple case of US vs Russia, and for the first time, it is hard to see who will win. Great Power Politics has returned, and while we may not wish for it to occur, Fukuyama’s much hoped for “End of History” has not occurred: British Values and indeed British security is once again at risk globally and need to be defended. And this is where the Remain camp was correct; the UK is not big enough to go out toe to toe with the superpowers of the day and stand its ground.
But what they failed to notice was that the UK was never big enough to do that by itself, even in the Glory Days of the British Empire, which some of them accuse us of trying to recreate. For Brexit Britain to be able to stand strong as a Great Power in the 21st Century, we must look back to when Britain was a Great, and even a Super, Power. It is unquestionably true that we did a great deal of bad in that period of time. But it is equally indistinguishable that we did a lot of good. The challenge set before us now is to learn how to best merge ethical and successful strategies to ensure that both Britain and British Values return to the Global Realpolitik Sphere.