The one upside to Brexit championed since the referendum turns out not to be much of an upside after all—as conversation with foreign diplomats confirmsby Steve Bloomfield / October 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
What is the point of Brexit? It depends who you ask—and when. During the referendum campaign, much of the debate surrounded immigration. Since then, at least in the minds of the leading Brexiteers, trade has taken centre stage. From David Davis to Boris Johnson, John Redwood to Douglas Carswell, the ability to trade freely with whomever we want has become the one constant positive benefit of Brexit they are able to cite.
Let’s, for now, leave to one side the question about whether a nation that believes in free trade should exit the world’s largest free trade area where it does 44 per cent of all its trade in order to trade more freely with other nations. Let’s also, for now, leave aside the question over whether it’s worth leaving said free trade union when it also has its own set of free trade deals with around 40 other nations which make up a further 17 per cent of all your trade.
Instead, let’s accept the premise laid out by the Brexiteers that a new set of trade deals will boost our flagging economy. The question then, is trade with whom—and what difference will it make?
Three nations have been at the heart of the trade debate—the US, Australia and New Zealand. At this month’s Conservative Party conference, it was these nations with which Fox proudly claimed discussions about “future relationships” had already begun. Of these three, the US—even the most ardent Brexiteer will now admit—is the most complicated. President Trump’s “America First” vow is one of the few promises he is willing to stick to. After the US slapped 222 per cent tariffs on Bombardier, putting thousands of UK jobs at risk, a trade war looks more likely than a trade deal.
That leaves Australia and New Zealand, two nations that Fox has claimed will be “first cab off the rank”. Informal talks have begun with both—and Fox and Johnson have headed Down Under for official visits where trade was at the top of the agenda.
But there is a problem. Interviews with Australian and New Zealand diplomats reveal that neither nation is confident that these trade talks will actually lead to more trade. “We don’t seek to be better off,” says Jerry Mateparae, New Zealand’s high commissioner…