For God and Empire 2.0


Why argue about a policy on its merits when instead you can call it emotive names and thus shut down the discussion? The latest example from the Anglosphere:

Australian Trade Minister [and future Prime Minister] Steven Ciobo has denied the meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers in London is about creating an ‘Empire 2.0’ and said the government has taken “concrete strides” towards a free-trade agreement with Britain.

As Ciobo says about the proposed ministerial talks, “There is absolutely nothing here that is about opening up some kind of new empire or anything like that. This is about bringing countries together at various stages of development to talk about the importance of having a strong commitment to liberalising trade and investment because that drives growth and it drives employment in every single country.”

But hey, if Trump = Hitler, then free trade might as well = empire.

[The talk] comes after plans for the inaugural meeting of 35 trade ministers from around the Commonwealth was criticised by UK politicians and dubbed “Empire 2.0” by civil servants.

Former Treasury Minister Lord O’Neill of Gatley said it was “embarrassing” for the UK to be vaunting deals with the likes of New Zealand when it should be going after Brazil, India, China and Russia.

“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” earlier this week, 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.”

You can certainly judge the soundness of a policy by its enemies and critics. I don’t know much more about the Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting than the story reports, but with a China fanboy ex-Goldman Sachs exec, anonymous “civil servants”, and useless socialist rent-seekers of the SNP against it, I’m all in favour.

Let’s assume the best of the proposed talks – that we might see the germ of a free trade agreement between the 53 countries that make up The Commonwealth. While the majority of former British colonies are small and largely irrelevant in terms of international trade, creating free movement of goods and services between the four of the top 13 world’s largest economies (the UK, India, Canada and Australia) would in itself be a big win for trade and growth. That dozens of developing countries (like Fiji, Sri Lanka or Rwanda) would gain unimpeded access to wealthy and mature economies would be a boon for these countries and a bonus for the overall scheme. God forbid that states which largely share the language and legal system should also be able to freely conduct commerce with each other. Many an ambitious scheme of international cooperation has foundered on the differences in political and economic cultures and institutions; how much easier it is to build on existing foundations of commonality and familiarity.

But let’s have a tantrum instead (the increasingly woke elite mouthpiece “Economist” called the idea of Commonwealth free trade “the ultimate Eurosceptic fantasy”) and equate abolishing trade barriers and spurring trade and economic growth (particularly amongst the world’s poor) with re-establishing the British Empire. Really? Why not the reintroduction of the slave trade too? If free trade equals colonialism equals empire, I somehow don’t see the “Empire 2.0” bashers and the EU lovers (one and the same in this instance) protesting that the European Union represents the return to the Roman – or Napoleonic or Hitlerian – imperialism. Then again, the left actually doesn’t mind imperialism, as long as it’s someone else’s.

And so we have Lord O’Neill who sees Commonwealth free trade as a distraction from dealing with big boys like China, Russia and Brazil – as if the United Kingdom can’t walk and chew the trade gum at the same time. He also disparages New Zealand, negatively contrasting it with, of all countries, Greece. Contra O’Neill, the Greek and New Zealand economies are actually of a very similar size; the difference is that while Greece is a busted-ass socialist economic basket case, New Zealand is a growing and vibrant free market economy. And we also have “Scottish Transport Minister” (in centuries past: in charge of stealing English horses across the border) Humza Yousaf who is very proud of his ancestors fighting against the British empire. Which makes you wonder why his Pakistani father and Kenyan mother hypocritically migrated to Great Britain in the first place. And which also makes you wonder why Humza now wants to deny the benefits of free market economy, which has been so generous to him in his 31 years in the land of hope and glory, to his kin in Asia and Africa. The Empire is indeed dead, but trendy anti-imperial sentimentality certainly lives on.

I, for one, would be delighted to see the empire of free trade grow to embrace the Commonwealth. Rather unfashionably, I remain a big fan of free trade and believe it would benefit not just developed countries like Australia and the UK, but also all the smaller member states around the world. In our own backyard, free trade and greater economic integration with Pacific island states might in long term be the only way to make them viable and sustainable. So, Steven Ciobo and your fellow Trade Ministers, take up the free trade’s burden, and don’t mind the knockers, half-leftie devil and half-spoiled child.