Brexit should be seen as a great opportunity for renewal of the Commonwealth of Nations
The Parliament of the United Kingdom will be prorogued from September until the middle of October meaning that at long last the UK is almost certain to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019. The result of the largest democratic vote in British electoral history, that took place on 23 June 2016, will finally be honoured. The United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, AKA Brexit, will bring tremendous challenges and also opportunities, not only for the British but also for the rest of the world, especially the Commonwealth of Nations.
The European Union is shrinking as a percentage of the world economy while the Commonwealth is growing rapidly. New trading deals with Commonwealth Realms will be signed post-Brexit resulting in increasing prosperity for both sides. The mistake made in 1973 when Britain turned her back on the Commonwealth and focused narrowly on Europe can now be corrected.
That this aberration is now recognised for what it is can be attributed to the relentless campaigning of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). It is remarkable how an insurgent party, which emerged from the Anti-Federalist League, in 1993 managed to force the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to hold a referendum in 2016 and then go on to win it.
The former leader, Nigel Farage, described the party’s grassroots as a ‘People’s Army’. Indeed, it took the shock of the 2013 local elections where UKIP candidates took hundreds of seats from the Conservatives for the establishment to take the party seriously. In an effort to prevent further support from haemorrhaging to UKIP a pledge was made to hold a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.
At the start of the 2016 referendum campaign the general consensus of the pollsters was that it would be a Remain victory. The main thrust of the Remain campaign was that anyone who opposed membership of the European Union was at best mad, at worst a bigot. All the major political parties, big business, banks, trade unions and broadcasting media were in favour of Remain. What could go wrong for them? The over confident and condescending nature of the Remain campaign backfired spectacularly. This, combined with a failure to address the key issue of freedom of movement, ensured that as the campaign progressed the momentum fell from Remain and lurched towards Leave.
The polls narrowed in the final week but on the 23 June the die was cast. The results were declared on the early hours of 24 June which saw a Leave victory by a margin of approximately 4 points. The establishment media were flabbergasted. Nevertheless, over 3 years later and despite much heel digging, it is almost certain that Brexit will happen on 31 October. This chain of events can be attributed, one way or another, to the work of UKIP challenging the established political parties.
Brexit should be seen though as a great opportunity, not just for national renewal, but for renewal of the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom has historic ties with countries such as Sri Lanka and there exist bountiful commercial opportunities for mutual benefit.
The Commonwealth, potentially, represents the largest free trade area on the planet, dwarfing the European Union, so it is an obvious move to enhance trading links. The traditions, common legal systems and languages shared by Commonwealth countries facilitate ease of business processes. All members of the Commonwealth would have much to gain and nothing to sacrifice from a global free trade agreement. It most important to remember that such an achievement may only come to pass once Brexit becomes a reality.
Focusing on Sri Lanka specifically, it is a particularly attractive country for trade and investment. First of all, Sri Lanka has an enviable Strategic location on the most important international trade route in the world – the Indian Ocean. Half of all the world’s trade is traversed across the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has a list of highly strategic ports located among the busiest sea lanes of communication. The Lloyds list states that Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port is the 25th busiest container port in the world. The Sri Lanka Ports Authority reports it made profits of LKR 11 billion in 2016, while recording revenue of LKR 44 billion. The natural deep water harbour at Trincomalee is the fifth largest natural harbour in the world.
Sri Lanka’s location can thus serve commercial and industrial purposes, making it an attractive destination for foreign investment to enhance the country’s economy.
Elizabeth Jones is National Executive Director of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and a senior solicitor
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent those of the publishers.