One of the saddest things about our joining the quaintly-named “Common Market” in 1973 was the way we thoughtlessly turned our backs on the Commonwealth. It was only thirty years since Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders (and many others) had fought and died alongside British troops to defend the Mother Country. Yet thirty years on, it seemed more important to ally ourselves with our former enemy than to respect the ties of language, culture and history.
Of course we know the reasons. The Commonwealth was backward-looking, fuddy-duddy, Kiplingesque, an unwelcome reminder of a colonial past, whereas Europe was exciting, modern, the place where the future of commerce and industry would be forged in the white-heat of modern technology. Colonial back-waters had nothing on the growth prospects of Europe. In those days, before the Internet had annihilated distance, New Zealand seemed a long way away.
Our decision did real damage, both to the economies of Commonwealth countries and to our relationships with them. Yet the politicians of those days — Macmillan, Heath, Wilson — no doubt believed they were acting in the best interests of the British people.
My. How things have changed. Just this year, Commonwealth GDP overtook €urozone GDP. And last time I checked, European GDP was flat-lining, while average growth in the Commonwealth was 3+%, and higher in some countries. India is over 5%.
So it’s a good time to take a new look at the Commonwealth. And a good time for a new book, “Commonwealth Trade, Growth, Wealth”, by Tim Hewish (Parliamentary Researcher for Steve Baker MP) & James Styles, and published in association with the Freedom Association. It reviews the territory in some detail, but in an engaging and accessible way, and it has an important story to tell. It quotes a Commonwealth High Commissioner as saying “The UK was too focussed, and some would say too obsessed, with the EU”.
Indeed. Europhiles love to claim that the EU represents 50% of our foreign trade, as though that were a great success (although the true figure is currently around 43%, and falling). But it raises the question, if the EU is only around 20% of global trade, what are we doing wrong in the rest of the world? There is no reason why our trade with the EU should be compromised when we leave the EU, but leaving will create an important new emphasis on the rest of the world where the growth is, rather than on the one major economic area in long-term relative decline.
The authors quote a fascinating study from JP Morgan, who set out to assess the monetary incompatibility of several possible groups of countries. That is, what are odds of a monetary union failing within that group? (Don’t ask for the methodology — but I tend to trust JP Morgan). The Anglosphere has the second lowest incompatibility rating of the six groups they looked at, after Latin America, and below 30%. The €urozone, by contrast, has the highest incompatibility — over 50% — and just the same as a group of countries selected at random (“Countries beginning with M”). If only the €uro’s founding fathers had done some due diligence!
Neither I nor the authors are suggesting that we should in fact have an Anglosphere monetary union. But we have a good measure of compatibility, alongside a common language, and similar legal and accounting systems.
Today I see in the Telegraph letters someone, yet again, asking what is our alternative plan for Britain when we leave the EU — as though being independent, democratic and a global trading nation were not enough in itself. But leaving the EU must drive a re-engagement for British trade and industry with the growing economies of the rest of the world. And the Commonwealth and the Anglosphere are a great place to start.
“Common Trade, Growth, Wealth”, with a foreword by Andrew Rosindell, is published by The Hampden Trust. ISBN 978-0-9574049-0-8. www.commonwealthtrade.info