LONDON — The head of the Commonwealth secretariat is calling for Britain to “go an awful lot faster” in forging trading links with the 52-member group in the wake of Brexit.
Patricia Scotland told the Financial Times in an interview on Tuesday: “There’s a diamond here and we are not picking it up.”
Scotland’s comments come ahead of a meeting between International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and ministers from the 52 Commonwealth nations in London on Thursday and Friday.
The Times reports that Fox plans to guarantee Commonwealth nations that their trading relationship with Britain will only improve or stay the same, not get worse, due to Brexit. Fox also apparently wants to push for an African free trade zone that Britain can strike a deal with.
However, sceptical Whitehall officials have internally branded the plans “empire 2.0,” according to the Times, expressing doubts over how effective trade with the Commonwealth will be in compensating for affected EU trade. While the Commonwealth collectively represents more countries than the EU, they are spread across the world, making trade difficult and costly.
In her interview with the FT, Scotland countered this by citing a report that found trade between Commonwealth nations is 20% cheaper than would be expected from trade over such distances. She added that South Africa, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Jamaica have all approached her office to talk about boosting trade links.
However, the leaking of the phrase “empire 2.0” to the press seems to have done the damage that sceptics of the policy intended. Many commentators on Twitter have confused the derogatory term with official government branding and are attacking Fox and his office for its seeming crassness (although it is, of course, the policies opponents who are branding it empire 2.0.)
Indian MP Shashi Tharoor also criticised the government directly on radio station LBC, telling host Iain Dale:
“That’s the most unfortunate phrase, because don’t forget, for example, that India’s experience of trade with the East India Company in the bad old days, was that they destroyed our thriving free trade.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to India last year highlighted other difficulties Britain may face in striking trade deals with Commonwealth partners. India’s Prime Minister Modi asked May for more visas for Indians looking to come to the UK, despite the fact that May has made clear that controlling immigration will be a red line in Brexit negotiations and beyond.
“Empire 2.0” sums up the idiocies of Brexit perfectly.
— Law and Policy (@Law_and_policy) March 6, 2017
The ‘Empire 2.0’ neo imperialist language of the hard Tory Brexit is a desperate attempt by a dwindling power to cling to a disgusting past.
— Miriam Brett (@MiriamBrett) March 6, 2017
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