TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP, ADDRESS TO AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS IN THE U.K., LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM
First a confession; I was one of the many luminaries to warn Britons against Brexit.
Unlike most of them, though, my argument was not that Britain needed Europe but that Europe needed Britain.
And unlike most, I’m not sulking because Britons failed to take my advice.
Now that it’s happened, I’m quietly thrilled that the British people have resolved to claim back their country.
Losing the world’s fifth largest economy and the continent’s strongest military power could certainly be bad for Europe – but there’s no reason why Brexit should be bad for Britain.
With the English language, the common law and the mother of parliaments – all made in Britain –and more Nobel Prize winners than any country except America, how could anyone doubt that Britain is more than capable of making its way in the world?
With the modern world virtually made in English, how could Britons possibly feel strangers in it?
And so far, post-Brexit, the stock market’s up, employment’s up and economic growth is up; the pound’s down – but that should more than compensate for any tariffs that the EU is foolish enough to impose.
Britain should still be the best place from which to export to Europe or to service Europe – because it has the freest markets and a can-do culture and will no longer have EU officials trying to harmonise away its competitive advantage.
It’s time for the nay-sayers to stop lamenting Brexit and to make the most of it.
No new Brussels directives will apply in the UK.
British courts will no longer be subject to European ones.
And Britain need no longer admit everyone with any EU passport.
As my distinguished predecessor, John Howard, famously put it: “We shall control who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come”.
Importantly, Britain will be able to strike trade deals with anyone it chooses without waiting for 27 other countries to sign up too.
Apart from this, everything should stay the same until it’s specifically changed.
When it comes to trade deals, no country has had more extensive recent experience than Australia.
My government finalised free trade agreements with Korea, Japan and China.
Our Japan deal was their first to liberalise agricultural imports.
Our China deal was their first with a large developed economy.
Our trade deals covered services and investment as well as goods.
We subsequently did a new and improved deal with Singapore and helped to drive the Trans-Pacific Partnership that could cover countries with 40 per cent of global GDP.
Under the Abbott government, Australia set the gold standard for free trade negotiation – thanks to Trade Minister Robb – as well as the gold standard for successful border protection.
But now, thanks to Brexit, there’s the opportunity for an even better FTA; one that makes trade absolutely free rather than simply much freer than it was.
As the EU has exemplified, many trade deals actually raise barriers to outsiders while they lower them to signatories.
In some cases, harmonising standards in Europe has made trade with the rest of the world harder, not easier.
The coming Britain-Australia FTA should mean a dramatic increase in trade opportunities between our two countries without disadvantaging anyone else.
It should have two key elements:
First, there should be no tariffs or quotas whatsoever on any goods traded between our two countries – there should be no exceptions, no carve outs, nothing.
And second, there should be full recognition of each country’s credentials and standards.
The objective would be an entirely seamless economic relationship based on free entry of goods, mutual recognition of services and standards, and easy entry of qualified people.
If a motor car (say) could be registered in the UK, it should also be registrable in Australia.
If a trade qualification (say) was recognised in Australia, it should also be recognised here.
Because Australia and Britain are like minded countries with similar systems and comparable standards of living, there should be no need for tortuous negotiation and labyrinthine detail.
After all, British and Australian workers enjoy similar protections in the workplace so why should they need elaborate protections against each other?
Britain and Australia have comparable attitudes to job qualifications and to product and service standards so why should British rules be insufficient for Australia and vice versa?
And Britons and Australians already have more than two hundred years’ experience of each other so why not allow them more freely to travel and work in each other’s country, provided no one’s bludging?
For the first time in over a generation, Aussies shouldn’t face a passport queue at Heathrow – or no more than the one Britons face at Sydney.
This could be a template for the trade deals that Britain could swiftly do with New Zealand and Singapore.
On a similar basis, Britain could seek to join NAFTA which could become the North Atlantic Free Trade Area – and perhaps open to other free market economies seeking to escape the regulatory restraints and statism of the EU.
In this way, Brexit could begin a process leading to genuinely freer global trade rather than protectionist trade blocs.
With all the anti-growth factors now at work and with so much that’s sapping confidence – from terrorism, to protectionism, to banking tremors – the world desperately needs good economic news: like two big economies that are serious about really free trade.
It would be a huge mistake for ministers and officials to wait two years for Brexit to come into force before working out this deal.
Everything could be decided in a few months to come into force on the appointed day.
It would be an even bigger mistake to subordinate a Britain-Australia FTA to one with Europe.
A deal with Europe would be good to have but the one finalised with Canada several years ago still hasn’t come into force.
Both Britain and Australia should be looking for a quick win: Britain, to prove that Brexit hasn’t reduced its appeal as an economic partner; Australia, to prove that reforming government is still possible in a difficult parliament.
Of course, most countries need budget repair, de-regulation and lower taxes as well as freer trade – but in Australia these nearly always mean putting legislation through a hostile senate.
Making treaties remains largely the prerogative of the executive government and the opposition still says that it supports freer trade especially with countries comparable to ours.
Freer trade is a really important economic reform waiting to be grasped by a country that wants to be more open for business.
So let’s get on with it; let’s not waste this moment.
We’d deserve to be judged harshly if we do.