When Napoleon Bonaparte brought France under his control a little over two hundred years ago, he came up with a simple plan for dealing with the pesky British, who were holding out against domination by a foreign power. He devised the Continental System, an effective blockade on Britain, preventing them from trading with Europe. He felt sure this would lead to Britain’s economic collapse.
Unwittingly, le Petit Caporal provided Britain with the impetus it needed to kick start a new golden era of global trade. Cut off from its immediate neighbours, Britain forged powerful trading links to what are now Commonwealth countries including India and Canada.
The campaign group I co-chair, Leave Means Leave, is confident such hostility towards trade with Britain by Europe will not be repeated now over Brexit. It is manifestly in both sides’ interests to strike a free trade deal with the UK and carry on trading abundantly when we leave the single market and customs union.
However, we should remind ourselves that we are far from being without friends beyond the borders of the European continent.
Today the Australian foreign secretary, Julie Bishop, has said Australian citizens should have equal rights to come and work in the UK as EU citizens post Brexit. The spirit of her remarks are to be welcomed.
One of the main problems with our existing immigration system is that low-skilled workers from Eastern Europe are free to enter unchecked and yet highly skilled engineers, doctors and scientists from countries like Australia are tightly restricted from coming to work here.
For Australians to obtain a five-year visa to work in the UK, they must secure a skilled job with a £25,000 starting salary prior to arriving. It’s fairly obvious that job hunting is much more practical when you are in the country you wish to work in so you can meet potential employers face to face.
The current system is unnecessarily frosty towards our antipodean cousins who contribute much to our economy. With Australia, like many of our friends in the Commonwealth, we share a common head of state, a common language, legal systems based on common law and a long history of working together.
When we take back control of our borders in March 2019, we will be free to create a system where we can chose to allow entry to those whom we think will add the most value to our society.
Ms Bishop’s call to make it easier for Australian citizens to contribute to the UK’s workforce is part of a wider discussion on free trade post Brexit. These trade deals with countries beyond the EU will be vital to the UK’s future prosperity, regardless of the arrangement we come to with our continental neighbours.
The EU itself admits that 90 per cent of future world growth will come from outside Europe. The Commonwealth economy over took the eurozone’s four years ago, according to the IMF, and is due to overtake the whole EU’s in two years’ time. India alone is experiencing growth of 7.1 per cent.
When we entered the European Economic Community 44 years ago, we were at a low ebb, our economy dogged by rising unemployment, frequent strikes and severe inflation. We signed up to the European customs union’s protectionist barrier against trade from outside its borders. It devastated exports from our Commonwealth friends to us and left them feeling betrayed.
Brexit gives us a golden opportunity that we must embrace to rekindle those relationships which first made us a global superpower two hundred years ago.