Britain’s departure from the EU is a historical watershed. As a big moment in geopolitics, it ranks with the fall of the Soviet Union. For decades, it had been assumed that the nation state would decrease in importance and that supra-national bodies, such as the EU and the UN, would become ever more relevant; just as, a generation back, pro-communist writers assured us that they’d seen the future and it worked. The revolt of the British electorate against Brussels’s encroachment shows, yet again, that there’s nothing inevitable in the course of history. Britain hasn’t turned its back on history; yet again you’ve changed it!
This is a monumental personal triumph for Nigel Farage who has single-mindedly been crusading against the arrogance and interference of the EU for almost three decades. It’s also a tribute to Boris Johnson who sniffed the wind and correctly concluded that a majority of the British people would back themselves in any disagreement with foreigners. Most of all though, it shows that Britons have not lost that sense of themselves as a country that’s shaped the modern era more than any other – through the mother of parliaments, the world’s common language, the industrial revolution, and the world’s most-played sport; not to mention saving Europe from tyranny not once but twice over the past century.
Of course, there’s still a great deal yet to be decided, despite Britain’s formal departure from the EU. It’s far from clear that the EU will offer Britain even the same trade deal it’s concluded with Canada, despite nearly 50 years of British membership and the current absence of tariffs, quotas and regulatory differences between Britain and the countries that are still members. But by confirming the 2016 referendum result, Johnson’s thumping election win means that Britain is no longer scared to face the future, regardless of whether it gets a trade deal with the EU.
In my view, Britain’s default position should be that trade between it and the countries of the EU should be entirely free of tariffs and quotas; that there should be mutual recognition of credentials and standards; and that there should be free movement of people, up to a cap on numbers, for well-paid work, not welfare. Indeed, with carve-outs for defence and a few other strategic industries, this would be a good starting point for all Britain’s trade negotiations with countries enjoying a comparable standard of living. Regardless, Britain will now be able to shape its own future in trade and all else, no longer constrained by Brussels but only by its own judgement of what’s prudently in the national interest.
Prior to 1973, Britain was Australia’s third biggest trading partner. Today, largely thanks to the high tariffs that the EU imposed on goods from outside the bloc, Britain is but our 12th biggest trade partner (although a much more significant economic partner as the second biggest investor in Australia; and our second most important security partner via the Five Eyes after the United States).
Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said that Australia is at the front of the queue for a post-Brexit trade deal. And Britain certainly should be negotiating with us, as well as exploring joining the North American Free Trade Agreement and even the Trans-Pacific Partnership, concurrently with its negotiations with the EU – if only to put some pressure on the Europeans to maximise their offer. In any event, as the most dynamic economy in Europe – as well as the second largest after Germany – Britain has no reason to fear a lack of trade suitors.
Leaving the EU is a salutary defeat for the declinists who had been saying for several generations that Britain couldn’t make it on its own. Middle England turned out to have far more faith in the country than the British establishment. Yet the same doomsters who have been predicting disaster at every decision-point since the Great War are now warning about the break-up of the United Kingdom itself because of Scotland’s hankering for Europe. The idea that Scotland would seize its independence from the rest of the UK only to give it away to the EU is absurd. The Scots have punched above their weight as a people, precisely because they’ve been an important and respected part of the most successful union in human history. In my judgement, by far the best antidote for Scottish separatism is the more self-confident Britain that Brexit has created.
It was possible to mount an argument for Britain to remain in the EU prior to the 2016 referendum but it wasn’t possible to sustain that argument subsequently while claiming to remain a democrat. Regardless of their prior position on the EU, with the Brexit general election behind them, it seems that all but the most die-hard Remainers have now concluded that there’s no turning back and that Britain has to make the most of it.
Rest assured that Britain’s friends are cheering you on as you reclaim your destiny as a sovereign nation; a friend to all but beholden to none.
Originally published in The Telegraph