Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon warns the “sheer intransigence” of the British government over its handling of its exit from the European Union could drive her country into a second bid for independence. Joanna Webster reports.
THE UK government has been slammed for plans to create “Empire 2.0” post-Brexit ahead of a critical Commonwealth meeting in London.
Trade ministers from 52 countries will meet in the UK on Thursday and Friday to discuss opportunities once the UK leaves the European Union in 2019.
But plans to develop trade with Africa and sign free trade deals with countries like New Zealand have been deemed “embarrassing” for the country and dubbed “empire 2.0” by civil servants working on them.
Former Treasury Minister Lord O’Neill of Gatley said the UK should be looking at deals with large and growing economies like Brazil, China, India and Russia rather than tiny “embarrassing” ones such as with New Zealand.
“Greece is bigger than New Zealand, banging on about a free trade deal with New Zealand is going to make zero difference to Britain’s future in terms of trade,” he said.
Scottish National Party Politician Alyn Smith called the plans “delusional nonsense,” saying “A narrow Leave vote enabled this delusional nonsense to move from lunatic fringe to UK Government policy.”
Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf also said: “My ancestors fought against [the] British Empire in the Commonwealth. I suspect no-one wants a return to it. The Empire is dead, let it go folks.”
The unofficial name for the plan used by civil servants was revealed by The Times earlier this week and has been sharply criticised. However those in favour of greater Commonwealth trade say it’s simply being used to “kill an interesting idea,” according to UKIP spokesman Gaway Towler.
The UK’s Royal Commonwealth Society’s policy director Tim Hewish said the meeting this week will be just the start of the journey which could see greater trade and visa access for Commonwealth country members.
“It’s also about Commonwealth more broadly and what they can get out of it, not just with Britain but with each other,” he said.
He said a recent survey of businesses by the organisation found 90 per cent of those quizzed think Australia should be a top priority for a free trade deal.
Canada and Singapore were the second priority followed by New Zealand, India, South Africa and Malaysia. Previous studies also indicated support for freedom of movement between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
London Business school professor Linda Yueh said it’s worth “reactivating” longstanding trade relationships with the UK which can be done quickly.
“As smaller economies than the US, China, and EU, it may be possible to conclude trade deals more quickly with these Commonwealth nations and allow Britain to gain the benefits of trade as well as notch up more practical experience in negotiating deals before it tackles the biggest countries in the world,” she said.
However not all from the Commonwealth will take the same view, with Indian MP Shashi Tharoor telling LBC this week that plans for a “Empire 2.0” will go down “like a lead balloon” in India.