James Frayne is Director of communications agency Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion. The focus of this column is Theresa May’s conservatism for “ordinary working people”.
Theresa May will trigger Article 50 before the end of March – the start of formal negotiations with the EU on our future relationship. With that will come a Great Repeal Bill that will ultimately repeal all such legislation associated with EU membership that Parliament agrees must go.
All of this is necessary and inevitable: leaving the EU is a complex process and our future relationship with the EU is crucial. But with all the focus on the specifics of our relationship with the EU, there is a danger that we miss the most important issue: a change in Britain’s national strategy and a new role for Britain in the world. Leaving the EU is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
That end should be a Britain that is more open, innovative and international in outlook, seeking new trading alliances with the world’s fastest growing economies, and new security and diplomatic alliances with powers that share our values and have the ability to help maintain peace and prosperity. That does not come from simply leaving the EU and leaving everything else as it is. We need to create this new role.
Britain should seek to forge a new Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA). An idea developed by former analysts at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation – John Hulsman and Jerry O’Driscoll – and further developed by Hulsman in what is the best foreign policy column best foreign policy column in the British media, the GFTA would be a voluntary coalition of liberal democracies that would promote free trade.
Unlike with EU membership, states would retain complete independence and their involvement would depend on their ability to meet certain criteria – such as openness, a commitment to property rights and light regulation. It would have none of the bureaucratic apparatus of the EU, relying on formal meetings between the GFTA’s trade ministers and associated experts. Whether the GFTA’s states decided to agree standards on things like state subsidies would be a matter for them.
The GFTA would seek to include at least the majority of the EU’s member states (which clearly depends on EU agreement, but membership would be hugely attractive to many members), the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and others. Given these countries’ commitment to liberal democracy, it would make sense for the GFTA to become the basis for a new set of diplomatic and security alliances – again, something that would be attractive to many given the rise of a new multipolar world.
It isn’t within Britain’s power simply to create such an alliance, and it would be premature for May to grandly announce such a scheme. But now that we are outside the EU, creating such an alliance should be the objective of the British Government and should guide their thoughts and actions as they negotiate with the EU and hold exploratory meetings with friendly powers. Of course, such an alliance is highly ambitious, but given that we are leaving the EU and have to forge a new role, such ambition is necessary.