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Free Trade and the Australian deal



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In his latest Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses relationships with EU and Commonwealth countries...

Time and again, tariff reform has been a lodestar issue for conservatives of all kinds. The term sounds dry, but with whom we trade and on what terms goes to the heart of how Britons understand themselves and the world surrounding us.

Trade and tariffs are a bellwether issue of whichever age they arise in because they highlight the tension between a government’s duty to its own people and a faith in the careless ‘invisible hand’. This difference can be crystalised as a struggle between economic fraternity and globalisation; the option to affirm our bonds with friendly nations or capitulate to deals which sell Britain to the highest bidder. As we take on the task of reforming Britain’s tariff system, we are making practical and a political decisions of the greatest import.

One of my political heroes, Joseph Chamberlain, was in favour of protecting British firms and workers, and so am I. Today we face different tariffs and different reform, but Joe’s guiding mission holds true. He wanted then what I want now, to address poverty by redistributing advantage, so elevating the people beyond the pitiless grasp of free market fanaticism. Joseph Chamberlain championed Imperial preference, a system of mutually beneficial trade agreements between the, then, dominions of the United Kingdom – protective duties which would boost inter-Empire trade and secure our family of nations from the unreliable, predatory excesses of globalisation.

MP Sir John Hayes (54193564)
MP Sir John Hayes (54193564)

His dream, which faded after the Second World War, is relevant again today. Our membership of the EU shackled the UK to a Europe which specialised in naval-gazing on a monumental scale. Brussels' ‘fortress Europe’ mentality (on trade, but bafflingly not on immigration) estranged us from the Queen’s realm across the seas, nations with which we share ties of sentiment and sympathy; interest and influence.

It is a national triumph that the British Empire was gradually dissolved by our own hand, evolving to become a Commonwealth of Nations with the Queen at its head – an organisation of which former colonies are proud to be a part.

Among these countries sits the Queen’s realm, 15 nations for which she remains the head of state such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica – nations that share a truly unique bond of history, language and blood. They are friends who should be our first port of call when looking for allies in an increasingly tense world.

To relegate the Commonwealth for decades in deference to the EU was an abdication of responsibility by the UK. Now, in a post-EU age, we are free once again to imbue these relationships.

In December, we signed our first ‘from scratch’ trade agreement since leaving the EU. This is a partnership with Australia, and work is enthusiastically under way with our other Anglosphere cousins to tighten the ties that link us. Our post-EU ambition must be grander still, what we need is an up to date reworking of Chamberlain’s old idea of imperial trade preference.

This does not involve throwing open our economic borders, even to our friends, and we must aim to produce much more of what we consume as locally as possible – mindful of Lincolnshire’s well-deserved reputation as the food basket of Britain, we should not allow any trade deal to endanger quality, traceability or security by lengthening food chains. This domestic commercial fraternity is the path to economic security, sustainability and success for British businesses and local communities. Where we do import goods, it would be preferable if they were made in the Commonwealth.

The UK has come home from the wilderness. Our guiding light, as our Kingdom expands its horizons once more onto the global scene as a newly independent power, are those Commonwealth cousins who have been waiting far too long for our return.



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