James Skinner is founder & Executive Director of the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation.
For many in the United Kingdom, June 23rd, 2016 will be remembered as the day we decided to leave the European Union – our independence day. Yet for many across the world (especially where I reside in Canada), it will be remembered as the day when us Brits made the worst possible decision. We turned our backs on European cooperation, trade and diplomacy, simply because 52 per cent of our population were “xenophobic”, “anti-European” or misled by lies and false statistics throughout the referendum campaign.
Of course, being located 3,000 miles away acts as a filter mechanism whereby understanding the reasons for voting to leave the European Union have not been truly understood by most Canadians. The inefficiencies of Eurocrats in Brussels, the constant advances towards a federal Europe and the detriment of uncontrolled European immigration have been swept aside in our media, and replaced by opinion pieces from journalists who feel that the EU solely promotes good will, better trade and peace-keeping.
Needless to say, Britain’s vote to leave the EU has caused adverse reactions across the world, and the Canadian media has proved no exception. Newspapers have predicted gloomy outlooks for the healthcare sector, pension funds, manufacturing and personal finances. The Bank of Canada has predicted that global GDP will fall by 2018, and that the Canadian economy would enter another recession. The future is apparently bleak, and it is the Brexiteers who are to blame.
However, almost three months on, we are still awaiting “the inevitable crunch”. The economy here has remained stable. RBC Bank has even predicted GDP growth of 3.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2016, and the Bank of Canada has revised its economic forecast for 2.2 per cent growth next year (a long way from the recession originally predicted).
And so, despite the dooming outlooks, the future (post-Brexit) is not only looking promising for the UK, but for Canada too. As British Consul-General and Director for UK Trade and Investment for Canada, Kevin McGurgan, said after the Brexit vote: “I have no doubt that through this time, the UK’s relationship with Canada will go from strength to strength”.
And he’s right. Despite journalists and economists across the nation warning of economic dismay, the UK has continued to be Canada’s second-largest investment partner and third-largest trading partner. Canadian pension funds are currently some of the biggest institutional investors in Britain and, from an employment perspective, over 100,000 Brits continue to work for Canadian firms in the UK (with an equal number of Canadians working for British firms here).
The immediate future was never likely to be one of economic decline, austerity and recession. On the contrary, Canada’s future was always promising, and Brexit hasn’t jeopardised its potential for growth or investment opportunities. But what about a few years down the line? Will Brexit benefit trade and diplomacy in Canada, or will the media’s predictions of economic turmoil become a reality?
My answer is simple: the best is yet to come. A Canadian-British trade agreement is looking very likely indeed, and will take considerably less time to negotiate than the current Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU. The CETA has taken over five years to complete because of ineffective EU negotiations, and still remains unratified. Before it can come into effect, it must be deliberated and approved by every parliament within the European Union, which is no easy feat.
A Canadian-British trade agreement, however, will be far less complicated, especially considering our historical connections, Commonwealth membership and close diplomatic relations. It will also be an agreement between two long-standing allies, independent of the European Union’s bureaucratic procedures and lengthy delays.
In addition, Brexit has also opened the door for free movement within the Commonwealth, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation has made significant strides in promoting free movement between these nations, and numerous academics and economists have also advocated political and economic union of the CANZUK countries.
Indeed, the Brexit journey has not been an easy one but, despite a rocky start, Canada is gradually embracing the UK’s future outside of the EU and is willing to help the UK on the road to independence. The media are beginning to retract views of pessimism and negativity, and promote analyses of economic prosperity and optimism. It will take some time, but I have no doubt that Canada will come to realise that Brexit was the right decision for the UK, and our trans-Atlantic relationship will become stronger than ever before.