Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
Let’s start with some basic statistics. In 1950, the United Kingdom was roughly twice as rich as Singapore: our per capita GDP was $11,920.58 to Singapore’s $5,689.91. By 2016, the position had been reversed. British GDP per head (adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity) was $42,287.17 to Singapore’s $82,168.33. Singaporeans, in other words, went from earning less than half of what we did to earning nearly double.
Bear these numbers number in mind when you hear people conjuring Singapore as some sort of Dickensian bogeyman. Lower tariffs, lower taxes and lower regulations do not bring lower wages. On the contrary, they have turned Singapore from a steamy island with no resources into a gleaming metropolis.
However you measure it, Singapore’s economy has been a huge success. Let’s take the most elemental measure of all. Life expectancy in Singapore has risen since 1960 from 66 to 83; the equivalent rise in Britain was from 71 to 81. Rich and poor Singaporeans are respectively better off than their British counterparts.
Yet, bizarrely, Singapore is more often referred to in our political discourse as a threat than as an opportunity. Labour MPs cite it as the kind of Brexit that no one wants, what Jeremy Corbyn keeps calling a “bargain basement economy”. Commentators tell us that ministers are holding the Singapore model up their sleeves as something to menace the rest of the EU with if they don’t get a decent deal. But Singaporean levels of taxation are not a menace; they are a sensible growth strategy.
It’s an unshakeable rule of politics than, whenever you cite a foreign example, however narrow the context, you are guaranteed – guaranteed – to be told something unrelated about the country you have mentioned. The Swiss have a great system of direct democracy? “Yeah, well, they took Nazi gold!” The Singaporeans have an enviable economic model? “Yeah, well, it’s a one party state!”
So it’s worth repeating, for the thousandth time, that Brexit will not make us “like” Switzerland or “like” Singapore. We’re not going to plant ski chalets in the Pennines or swap the beauty of our seasons for an unchanging equatorial haze. The point is simply that cutting taxes and regulations does not lead to squalor, but to higher living standards.
If Singapore is too exotic a model, try Australia or New Zealand. They, too, have opened their markets, removing tariffs and trade barriers, liberalising their economies, reducing the state’s share of GDP. Both have enjoyed a generation of sustained growth in consequence.
I am typing these words in Australia, where I have been plugging post-EU trade opportunities. It’s an extraordinarily heartening experience. For one thing, most Australians start from the proposition that Brexit will be good for their country and for ours. It’s true that there are one or two Leftie gloomsters here who have fallen for the idea that ours was somehow a nativist or protectionist vote. But, beyond a handful of editorial conferences and university campuses, few Ozzies think this way.
Even the politicians and diplomats – two constituencies which, the world over, tend to love the EU – can’t quite hide their pleasure. Australia’s High Commissioner to London, the brilliant Alex Downer, wrote a fine piece recently about the pain his father, also High Commissioner, had felt when we joined the EEC at the beginning of the 1970s, and the prospects that were now opening up before our two countries. Tony Abbott, the former prime minister, politely backed David Cameron during the campaign, but has since become one of the most eloquent champions of Brexit on Earth.
More than this, though, Australia serves as a model of what we could have been – what we can again be – as a fully sovereign country. Its political and legal structures are almost identical to ours. It’s not just that our parliaments look and sound the same; it’s that there constant traffic between our Conservative Party and their Liberal Party, as well as between the two Labours. And yet Australian political culture is suffused by a sense of optimism that has until very recently been lacking here. Almost no Australian politician seriously argues that, in order to be a reliable member of the comity of nations, it is necessary to join a supranational bloc.
As Chloe Westley put it on this site the other day, Brexit should be good news for Australia: it will mean fairer migration, freer trade and closer collaboration. Not just Australia, though. The same applies across the Commonwealth and, indeed, to friends and allies around the world.
Opening our markets won’t just benefit us. It is also benefit Ugandan cocoa growers and Bangladeshi seamstresses and Singaporean financiers – and, yes, managers of Queensland cattle stations. So cheer up, you blokes! Bloody oath – it’ll be bonzer!