Two of the great selling points of Brexit were taking back control of our own borders and expanding the frontiers of Global Britain. Some saw a contradiction here, of closing down at the same time as opening up. Yet they need not be mutually exclusive. Free movement of people is not a concomitant of the free movement of goods, though too many restrictions on the former can affect the latter.
The Government at the moment is finding it hard to stop illegal immigrants arriving but it is equally anxious not to put off the people the country wants to see coming here.
This country’s prosperity and its international reach have historically been achieved through its openness to outside commercial and cultural influences. The first bilateral free trade deal was agreed between Britain and France more than 150 years ago, generating unprecedented wealth for the great majority of the world’s population.
It is not necessary to have a formal agreement in order to trade and we exchange goods and services with some of our most important customers like America without a free trade deal. But they reduce uncertainty, make long-term decision making easier and give signatories legal cover.
Since Brexit many of the trade deals we had through the EU have been rolled over while several new agreements have been signed.
But the protectionist instincts shown by the Americans, both Trump and Biden, are a threat to global trade, as is China’s attempts to dominate trading routes though it’s Belt and Road initiative.
Britain needs to use its soft power to coordinate opposition to these harmful trends given their disastrous history; and yet domestically, convincing people of the benefits of globalisation is often hard to do if they find themselves unable to compete against cheaper imports.
As Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Trade Secretary, tells the Telegraph today, Britain has a long history of deal-making that it can build upon in the coming years. The biggest advance of all will be the UK’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership once the country’s application to join is negotiated. This is a timely moment for today’s Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade, hosted by the Centre for policy Studies in partnership with this newspaper. There are great opportunities here for Britain. We must grab hold of them.