There is a sense of taboo about the British Empire, especially in foreign relations. The feeling is that, as the Empire is a part of our history we don’t talk about, we should try not to talk with the previous colonies either. Like a particularly unpleasant divorce, both parties tend of avoid each other – even when they can still be friends.
The Empire does not, however, need to loom over the nation like a malevolent phantom. We do not need to be part of the European Union as a “re-education course” to de-imperialise our society: trading & closer relations with India & the other Commonwealth nations does not automatically require an Empire. To understand this key statement is an crucial part of the process of Brexit: it prepares the nation psychologically. The British public natural instinct seems to have two options for Commonwealth Trade:
- The Empire wasn’t half so bad – let’s go back to trading & a special relationship, we have little to be ashamed of.
- The Empire was the worst thing that ever happened to nations that were included – we need to treat them just like any other nation and try to ignore what we did – hopefully they’ll forgive us.
Understandably, neither position is conducive to making Brexit a long-term success. We need a Brexit vision for the Commonwealth. This begins by treating them as allies and friends – not as ex-colonies nor wholly new nations with whom we have no shared history or values.
The UK is realising that many of its allies and future post-Brexit partners are the same as it had before joining the EEC. For this reason, it is often not the supposed millstone of ‘Empire’ and nearly de facto free movement (until 1968) that is Britain’s stumbling stone. It is rather visas and immigration. Unable to control EU migration, successive British governments have tightened the only available screw in the two immigration queues: Commonwealth and the Rest of World. As many British citizens are realising, when benefits & open borders become traditional, removing them becomes a great loss. This has been Britain’s biggest mistake: we had begun to burn a number of our bridges to the world.
However, trade remains trade and friends keep links. This has been evidenced many times by statements of Heads of Governments and States in support of new trade agreements with the UK. This has been in part because the EU has not, in many cases, made itself more friendly to the developing Commonwealth nation than the UK had between 1962. Then Parliament began the passing of the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of 1962 and 1968, which began to split the Commonwealth into the richer, “white” dominions and the developing colonies for purposes of immigration.
Immigration & visas have been the key to international relations in the late 20th Century world: treaties are between nations comprised of citizens. Citizens wish to travel, and visas are often required. Ease of movement has become a key issue, as evidenced by numerous statements from the EU Commission on British access to the Common Market.
This is by no means different in the Commonwealth. From India to Australia, Jamaica to Kenya, the initial response to British offers of new trade agreements has met a near unanimous response: amend the restrictive visa policy: if the Commonwealth is special for trade, it is also special for our citizens.
The current system by no means recognises the important of the Commonwealth. Indeed, in a way it discriminates against them. Tourists from Mainland China have received access to a new reduced price visa. This means that an a two year visa now costs the same as a six month tourist visa: £87. For the rest of the world, including our Commonwealth allies, the price is £330. More tourists to the UK come from India than China according to the 2012 statistics. For those coming to visit friends and family, India and South Africa both have more visitors, and only 2,000 fewer Nigerians visit the UK compared to China to visit their family.
(Image courtesy of the Royal Commonwealth Society)
Tourist Visas alone cannot make a difference to our post-Brexit goal and our ability to achieve our objectives Global Britain. It is a step, a token gesture of friendship, that may well pay off. It is by no means irrational to expect citizens from South Africa, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, and all the Commonwealth countries that require visas to enter the UK to, after having paid £87 for a two year visa, consider coming a second time to the UK over that two year period. This way, the UK would achieve many policy aims at once:
- Increase Tourism to the UK
- Treat our Commonwealth allies & partners favourably
- Increase business travel to the UK
The UK needs a new set of partnerships outside of the EU. Even if we were to try to follow the Norwegian Model and be tied to the European geo-political bloc, it would depend on the kindness of the remaining 26 nations inside the EU. Crucially, it would also require that of the European Commission, which appears to be most grudging in offering any sort of workable solutions for future UK-EU relations. In either event, Brexit means the UK is back to being Global Britain. What better way of signalling it than to trade and work together with our oldest allies in the world? And what better way of signalling our extending the hand of friendship than an invitation to visit?
That’s why here at the Commonwealth, Realms & CANZUK Campaign (CRCC), we view visa reform as a Brexit priority and a laudable goal.
Citations: Hewish, Tim. ’How to Solve a Problem Like a Visa’. Found at: http://static.squarespace.com/static/5305fde9e4b09fae2c90af6b/t/54571c79e4b0b99a3440d69c/1414995065120/How%20to%20Solve%20a%20Problem%20like%20a%20Visa.PDF