When one seeks an example of yawn inducing dog whistle politics, Boris Johnson rarely fails to deliver. It never ceases to amaze that such well educated individuals can lack common sense and imagination. But Boris has shown that to be the case once again with his ‘back of the fag packet’ call for a free labour exchange between UK and Australia.
As an appeal to the section of the Eurosceptic community that laments the UK’s change of focus from Commonwealth ties to subservience to the EU, and a piece of flag-waving to those who resent the high level of immigration from non-Anglospheric countries, Johnson’s comments about closer UK-Australian workforce links work perfectly and no doubt prove reassuring, perhaps even encouraging. For those who want to see politicians suggesting approaches that fit the circumstances of the day, while providing evidence of some deep thinking and imagination, his comments are just so much more waffle.
By way of a quick observation, the Commonwealth was fine back then, but looking at it today as an alternative to the EU internal market would be a retrograde step. Increasingly, at the time the UK was stepping back and looking closer to home for politicial harmonisation and trade opportunities, the Commonwealth provided as much of a bind for some of its member countries as the EU does to the UK today. Consider the New Zealand experience, where Commonwealth driven approaches saw the high volume – low margin for lamb hold back and poorly compensate Kiwi farmers. But as the UK turned towards Europe, New Zealand’s sheep (and dairy) farmers took the opportunity to better serve their own interests by switching to a lower volume – high margin model, which rejuvinated the agricultural sector and increased wealth.
Returning to Johnson, why his comment represents small thinking is that there is a whole world of opportunity outside the EU for labour exchange, trade agreements and – more crucially – establishing new blocs of countries with common interests to negotiate trade deals.
Look at the Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations. There are some large blocs there, such as the US, the EU and the BRICS. The talks have stalled for years, particularly as the US and EU squabble over agricultural subsidies. Imagine the UK left the EU – dispensing with Brussels’ political baggage and instead representing itself on the world stage and truly having a seat at the real global top table – and opted to join EFTA as part of the strategy for retaining access to the internal market. Some other EU member states could follow suit (thinks Denmark, Sweden and even Ireland). Suddenly EFTA would have quite some clout. Indeed it could then progress to become a trade bloc in its own right, sitting in WTO trade rounds like Doha, working for deals in our interests rather than the broader, more dilute interests of the larger EU bloc.
It could be a game changer, as trade with the US, BRICS and tiger economies of south east Asia could be via a genuine trade bloc rather than a customs union, not hampered by political governance issues. This is just one idea. It certainly has more vision and aligns better with today’s realities than Johnson’s small thinking and political gaming.
But this should not detract from the elephant in the room, which is the pressing and essential need to extract ourselves from the EU as quickly as possible, while preserving access to the internal market.
For this to happen the British people need to be convinced and reassured that the UK can leave the EU without suffering adverse commerical and economic consequences. Enough doubt and fear has been created by pro-EU entities who falsely claim leaving the EU means losing access to the single market. They pretend the negotiation option does not exist, and without providing any evidence for their rationale they reject EFTA membership as a stepping stone or even longer term solution.
The evidence that contradicts and exposes the Europhile claims, and undermines their political motives for keeping the UK under the control of Brussels, is irrefutable. But it is only a handful of bloggers with their limited reach who are telling the story. The Eurosceptic cause needs UKIP and every Eurosceptic organisation out there to tell the story and take control of the debate. By defining the narrative and citing the evidence – namely having something of substance to say – even the media will not be able to ignore the available solutions which can help the UK chart its own course in the world. It would certainly result in less attention being given to the inane waffle emanating from London’s indecisive and political greasy pole climbing Mayor.