Given the argument that the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom is primarily an anti-modernist one, driven by nostalgia for a supposed lost Golden Age of British supremacism brought to a premature end through the connivance of envious foreign interests, it is hardly surprising that the Commonwealth of Nations has become an obsessive beacon of hope among the Brexiteers. Despite the endemic xenophobia and racism in the successful campaign against the UK’s membership of the European Union, most of its supporters have convinced themselves that the associated remnants of Britain’s old empire can be persuaded to submit to the politico-economic hegemony of 21st century London.
The assumption that the former constituents of the Pax Britannica are more likely to acknowledge Anglo-British exceptionalism than the upstart continentals the United Kingdom has been partnered with for the last several decades has created all sorts of fact-defying beliefs and theories among the country’s right-wing political and media classes. From the nakedly atavistic Daily Express newspaper, take this bit of jingoistic flag-waving:
Nigel Farage today claimed that Britain could cultivate economic ties within the Commonwealth that would put its life in the EU to shame.
In a scathing assessment of Britain’s time in the EU, Mr Farage praised the fact that Britain could at long last turn to Commonwealth countries, who were growing faster than Europe.
His remarks follow this week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), a five-day summit in London this week, featuring the leaders of 53 countries.
[British foreign secretary] Boris Johnson said that the UK had made a “deadly” mistake in joining the Common Market after “turning its back” on the Commonwealth which caused people to “kill themselves”.
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday discussed the, while the EU may have up to 70 free trade deals with “tiny little places,” they had not secured free trade agreements with large emerging markets like Nigeria, South Africa and India.
Unfortunately for the tabloid Daily Express (which has a dubious relationship with the truth at the best of times), the relative values of the British Commonwealth and the European Union simply don’t match up to its fantastical expectations. The Commonwealth of Nations (CN) is comprised of fifty-three countries and territories, representing a significant 32% of the world’s population and 13.6% of its global GDP. In contrast, the EU has “only” twenty-eight member states (including the soon to be departed Britain), representing just 6.9 % of the global population.
However this unified bloc accounts for a whopping 24.1% of the world’s GDP in one of the most affluent and economically desirable regions on the planet. Furthermore, unlike the CN which has no responsibility for the dozens of individual economies operating under its umbrella, the EU enshrines a coherent single market and customs union, both internally and externally, with a number of associated bodies, members and favoured partners.
To make matters worse, the theoretical combined value of the Commonwealth of Nations looks very, very different when its four largest economies – the United Kingdom itself, Canada, Australia and India – are removed from the calculations. Then the GDP figure drops to a measly 2.6% of global output, this being the total potential wealth of the remaining forty-nine countries in the CN. While the UK has convinced itself that these possible trading partners will compensate for the loss of unrestricted access to one of the richest markets in the world, virtually all nonpartisan observers dismiss the idea. Unfortunately for Britain, most of its would-be friends are understandably prioritising existing and updated deals with Brussels rather than new and uncertain pacts with London, including Australia and the future powerhouse that is India.
In related news, from the British maritime shipping and trade website Marine Link:
…Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive of the British Ports Association said: “There are around 30 Government agencies or organisations which can carry out procedures at ports and we expect there to be both physical and digital infrastructure requirements at the border to accommodate any new arrangements following Brexit. It is critical that these agencies are prepared for new Brexit regime and that the infrastructure those arrangements will require is in place in time.”
Of particular concern is the traffic traveling via the UK’s Roll-on Roll-off ferry ports, such as Dover, Holyhead, Portsmouth and a number of terminals with links to the continent and Ireland.
Such ports facilitate in excess of 10,000 lorry journeys between the UK and the EU each day, representing 22% of the UK’s entire maritime trade and the majority of the UK’s EU traffic.
The Association represents almost all of these ports and terminals, which almost exclusively on EU routes and therefore do not presently have the facilities for customs officials and other borders agencies.
And what happens to that 22% of the United Kingdom’s maritime trade when the country proudly declares in a year or so from now, “Brexit Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off“?