Britannia Forever: UK to Jilt EU for Commonwealth?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/19/2013 04:16:00 PM
The classic split within the British Conservative Party is reappearing with a vengeance: On one hand you have those wishing to leave the European Union altogether or severely dilute Britain's misplaced fealty to those supposedly usurping the last vestiges of the UK's sovereignty--AKA those faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. On the other hand you have Tories who emphasize the economic links to the continent; after all, the EU remains by far the largest trading partner for the UK. There are innumerable articles and op-eds from the Financial Times [1, 2, 3, 4] weighing the pros and cons of Britain leaving the EU. This being a business newspaper, though, you will not be surprised to note that the majority of them favour staying for commercial and trade reasons.

To this, however, the Tory Eurosceptics have a ready-made argument which goes like this: So the EU is the UK's biggest trading partner. But, the EU is a spent force which contracted in 2012 and may barely grow in 2013. Besides, sundering the UK from the EU may not be such a big loss since there's a ready-made alternative for the former in the Commonwealth. There you have fast-growing economies alike India and faster-growing industrialized nations such as resource-rich Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Form the Christian Science Monitor:
Nostalgia for the glory days of empire lingers stubbornly in many corners of British political society, with some radical young Conservatives arguing that the EU is holding Britain back from focusing on transatlantic ties but also on emerging markets, including many in the Commonwealth. Those markets include many in Asia, including Australia and New Zealand. (Eurosceptic Foreign Minister William) Hague said today that “UK exports to the Asia-Pacific region are up 15 percent compared to the previous year, and last year for the first time in decades we exported more outside the European Union than to it, including topping £10 billion in our exports to Australia. Asia today is an engine of global growth, and we are determined to be part of that.”
Those familiar with British economic history though will note that resuscitating Rule Britannia Lite through trade ties is not a new idea:
But while efforts toward building up ties with the Commonwealth are music to the ears of many British Conservatives, most observers at home depict such a move as more of comfort blanket. “The old empire-commonwealth dream is really just that,” says Anne Deighton, Professor of European International Politics at the University of Oxford. “It has long roots among British Conservatives, roots that go back to the 1950s, but it was not viable then, and is not now.”
But alas, the direction and proportion of UK trade doesn't make sense with the "Commonwealth first" idea:
And hopes that the Commonwealth could be a substitute for European markets are at odds with the economic reality, according to Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London “If you look at the figures it just doesn't add up. Britain does more than 40 percent of its trade with the EU, and less than 10 with the Commonwealth,” he says. “It’s also not feasible, without actually leaving the EU, for Britain to devise any kind of free trade agreement. Not only Britain would have to leave but there would also have to be an exit by Malta and Cyprus, who are also EU members and members of the Commonwealth.”
It's not only far-fetched to think that the Commonwealth will become the trading hub for the UK--for instance, why would it need more of ANZ resources than China--but the premise for leaving the EU is also questionable. That is, why should we believe that the EU whose members are making a lot of the tough but necessary choices now alike rightsizing their budgets and rationalizing their future commitments alike pensions and health care will forever be mired in economic stagnation? While the future of any number of developing Commonwealth members may feature significantly higher growth potential than those in the EU, it does not follow that the likes of India are a better fit with the UK either in terms of trade complementarity or geographic accessibility.

File this idea under: "Neocolonial Fantasy" (which apparently never sets).