The idea that Britain could be a new Singapore is a Brexiteer fantasy which misunderstands how both economies workby George Magnus / November 27, 2017 / Leave a comment
Whether it’s the 150-meter infinity pool straddling the top of the Marina Bay Sands at 200 metres, the designer shops in the ubiquitous shopping malls, the constellation of luxury hotels, or the thousands of vessels dropping anchor to trade or resupply in the Port of Singapore as they trans-ship between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, most visitors are wowed by Singapore.
This one-time mosquito-ridden equatorial trading port has become a sparkle in the global economy, and in the UK, it has gathered new fans among those yearning to make Brexit Britain a sort of Atlantic version.
Among the Brexiteer fans are Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, MEP Daniel Hannan, Conservative MP Owen Paterson, finance company owner Peter Hargreaves, and of course, James Dyson, a vociferous Brexiteer, who does his manufacturing and investing in Malaysia and Singapore.
Yet you don’t have to look very far to see that while Singapore has been an undoubted economic success in its own context, there’s not much about it that the UK would could, or would want, copy.
The so-called Singapore model is rather a sort of Disney-like fantasy that Brexiteers haven’t understood properly. What they actually want is an ideological construct of low tax, low public spending and low regulation, which they casually associate with Singapore. It is, though, an illusion.
The first thing to remember is that Singapore is a city, not a country. The UK population is 13 times as big, but its income per head is 25 per cent lower. UK manufacturing is half as big as Singapore’s 20 per cent share of GDP, and while the UK runs a significant external deficit, Singapore’s is close to 20 per cent of its GDP.
Singapore is the world’s second busiest port after Shanghai while the UK’s biggest container port, Felixstowe, ranks 35th in the world. London, like Singapore, is a major financial centre, but rated higher in terms of sophistication and infrastructure.
A Singapore state of mind
It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that Singapore has properties and attributes that have evolved hand-in-hand with its successful economic model. Looking at the economy, Singapore is highly ranked, and far above the UK, in widely followed global surveys on governance, the quality of public services,…