Ah, the Commonwealth – that quaint relic of British imperialism. Or, as some Brexiters see it, the panacea to our Brexit woes. Surely our loyal former colonies will help us fill the trade gap caused by leaving the EU?
If this is the UK’s plan, then it is going about it in a strange way. Shouldn’t the Government be trying to drum up goodwill among Commonwealth countries to lay the groundwork for a boost in trade?
But no. Instead, the Government has been deporting elderly people to Commonwealth countries they’ve never set foot in. These are people of the so-called ‘Windrush’ generation, who were invited to Britain in the late 1940s to help rebuild it after WWII. Their children are now being asked to prove that they’re here legally.
A minor error, easily cleared up with a bit of diplomacy, you might think? The sort of thing that could perhaps be smoothed over at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week?
Again, no. With trademark cluelessness, Downing Street ‘has rejected a formal diplomatic request to discuss the immigration problems experienced by some Windrush-generation British residents at this week’s meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government, rebuffing a request from representatives of 12 Caribbean countries for a meeting with the prime minister’. So, a big British two fingers up to the Commonwealth before the meeting has even started.
Undaunted by her own incompetence, Theresa May then opened the CHOGM with a call for increased trade between the UK and the Commonwealth nations. ‘Give us your trade but take back your people,’ was basically the message.
This ties in with analysis by Philip Murphy, the director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, who views UK plans to substitute EU trade for Commonwealth trade with derision. He writes:
…when it comes to the genuinely vast potential of the Indian market, a UK government driven by the anti-immigration agenda of leave voters is unlikely to make great strides in that direction. For example, India seems likely to want a relaxation of visa restrictions on its nationals in return for trade liberalisation. Certainly, the issue of immigration overshadowed Theresa May’s visit there in November 2016, leading to accusations that the UK wanted India’s business, but not its people. And whatever the future holds, invoking the name of the Commonwealth is unlikely to oil the wheels of any trade deal.
Put simply, free trade often goes hand in hand with the free movement of people. That this should be any different when trading with Commonwealth countries as opposed to EU countries is symptomatic of the Brexiteers’ fantasy that you can get something for nothing. Still, at least the Commonwealth Games should be fun.