UK Politics

Defending free trade will be more important than ever after Brexit

BY James Holland   /  23 February 2018

The British Prime Minister doesn’t tire of reminding those that are willing to listen that when Britain finally leaves the European Union, it will embark on a new course as an independent global trading nation.

When the country sets sail on this new journey, it will inevitably drift away from prioritising trade with the European continent and seek out better trading relationships with the world’s largest and fastest growing economies.

The potential benefits of striking free trade deals with countries like India, China or the US are incredible. Free trade increases prosperity for the citizens of all participating nations by allowing consumers to buy more, better-quality products at lower costs. The increased levels of trade will not only help create thousands of British jobs, but will boost UK government coffers for investment in public services.

Unfortunately, the ongoing campaign to keep the UK in the EU is reinforcing an irrational sense of dread about the future that awaits an independent Britain free to trade with whomever it wants once outside the EU Customs Union.

This pessimistic campaign to break public support for Brexit is already very critical of British attempts to forge new trade deals and their cynicism regarding the UK’s trading relationships once outside the EU will likely be bolstered by the many groups who have traditionally campaigned against globalisation and free trade in the country.

Disgruntled remainers could join forces with anti-globalisation activists, anarchists, communists, environmentalist and sections of the Corbynista-dominated Labour Party to form a powerful group campaigning against Britain’s future free trade deals.

Recent political swings have pushed people towards political manifestos that don’t hide their fear and scepticism of international trade and globalisation, be it on the left or right of the political spectrum.

Just this month, Green MP Caroline Lucas joined forces with Labour MP Barry Gardiner at a War on Want event in Shoreditch, east London, to form a so-called progressive alliance against free trade.

The arguments used by such groups are always more emotional than factual — appealing to those who feel the world does not work in theirs or the developing world’s favour.

In reality, restrictions on international trade usually harm the very consumers and producers they aim to protect. Protectionism limits the availability of products and drives up the prices of everything from clothing and the weekly shop. This depressingly means lower-income Brits generally bear a disproportionate share of these costs.

Free trade has in fact lifted more than one billion people out of poverty in the past generation. We are morally bound to promote the full benefits of free trade and make them available to as many people as possible, in as many parts of the world as possible.

Brexit should therefore be seen as an opportunity for Britain to restate its free trade credentials after years of languid protectionism within the EU’s Customs Union and Common Agricultural Policy.

The inevitable confrontation over free trade after Brexit means its most eloquent and inspiring advocates should spare no effort in defending it, now more than ever.

James Holland is a former adviser to Daniel Hannan


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