Whitehall civil servants rely on imperial memory in strategy to boost UK trade with Commonwealth
THE UK GOVERNMENT was left red-faced after it emerged from a report in the Times that civil servants have called the strategy to increase bilateral deals with African countries after Brexit, “empire 2.0.”
It is based on the idea that the UK will be able to secure advantageous deals based on its imperial past and cultural relationship with countries which used to be part of the British empire.
The revelations comes a week after Indian historian, MP and former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor, speaking on his latest book 'Inglorious Empire', said there is “historical amnesia” in Britain about the British rule in India and the “atrocities” of the empire.
Commenting, SNP MSP Joan McAlpine, who leads the Holyrood committee on External affairs, said: “The Tories obviously want to roll back the clock, but their backwards-looking Brexit plans are facing ridicule even from their own government officials.
“And the reference to ‘Empire’ simply underlines the scale of delusion at the heart of the UK Government’s planning for life outside Europe.
“We don’t need to rebuild the Empire or commission a new royal yacht to successfully trade with the world – we need to protect our existing place in the world’s largest single market, which is around eight times bigger than the UK’s alone.”
Her comments relate to the foreign secretary Boris Johnson who came out last year backing a plan to launch a new yacht that would sail around the globe doing deals and promoting the UK.
This week, the 52 former British colonies will meet at the Commonwealth gathering where Liam Fox MP the trade secretary will propose closer links between the UK and them.
Some African nations have been seduced by the idea of setting up an African free trade area from Cairo in Egypt to the Cape Town in South Africa and the UK Government is angling to get a piece of the action.
“And the reference to ‘Empire’ simply underlines the scale of delusion at the heart of the UK Government’s planning for life outside Europe.” Joan McAlpine
McAlpine added: "Clearly it is desirable to trade with Africa and Commonwealth countries elsewhere, provided it is fair trade. But as part of the EU we already have preferential trade deals with 55 other countries, including African nations. We don’t need to close the door on Europe to trade with the rest of the world.
“A Tory hard Brexit could cost up to 80,000 Scottish jobs and cost Scotland’s economy by up to £11bn a year by 2030. The Tories need to snap out of their nostalgic daydream and deal with reality.”
Experts such as Steve Peers, a professor in EU law and human rights law, say it is unlikely that after leaving the EU, the UK could negotiate trade deals with Commonwealth countries more quickly or favourably. This is because the EU already has made trade deals with 64 per cent of Commonwealth nations, and is negotiating with another 26 per cent.
These negotiations look like being completed by the time Brexit is trigged and finalised.
When contacted by CommonSpace, both the Nigerian and Indian embassies in London said they had seen the comments on ‘empire 2.0’ but did “not wish to comment” and “look forward to the commonwealth meetings with interest.”
Picture courtesy of Forgem
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