Theresa May ‘can’t rely on the Commonwealth’
Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said Leave supporters had talked up the trade benefits of the international group with little evidence to back it up.
And he claimed Brexiteers had largely been talking “nonsense” about the Commonwealth since the EU referendum.
He wrote: “What is surely beyond doubt is that the Commonwealth cannot rescue the UK from the grievous, self-inflicted wound of Brexit.
“And any suggestion that it can will only serve to rob the organisation of whatever last vestiges of credibility it still possesses.”
In an adapted extract from his book The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth, published in the Guardian, Prof Murphy argued the Commonwealth’s best days were long ago.
He wrote: “Despite the leave campaign’s best efforts to turn the Commonwealth into a symbol of Britain’s ability to stand on the international stage independently of the EU, its power and influence has long been on the wane.”
He went on: “For the leave campaign, depicting the Commonwealth as a huge potential trading opportunity for the UK was a useful fiction.
“This was reassuring mood music for a campaign keen to demonstrate that Britain would not be left helpless and isolated after Brexit.
“Yet beyond a few hand-me-down figures about its supposed economic potential, there were few clues about how or why the volume of trade with Commonwealth member states would be increased.”
The Queen with Commonwealth leaders
And Mr Murphy laughed off talk following the vote that the Commonwealth would give Britain an advantage, making it easier and cheaper to trade with other nations.
He pointed out that in 2015 the entire Commonwealth received just nine percent of UK exports, compared to the 44 percent that went to the EU.
And he claimed Commonwealth member states had wanted Britain to remain in the EU.
He wrote: “The working assumption is that the current EU agreements, which allow many developing Commonwealth countries access to the UK market on advantageous terms, will lapse in Britain at the moment that Brexit takes effect.
The professor claimed Leave campaigners were mistaken
“It will only be after that point that the UK has the legal capacity to negotiate trade agreements independently of the EU.
“This means many less-developed Commonwealth countries that currently conduct a significant proportion of their trade with the UK risk being hit by an immediate tariff hike.
“Given the finite resources available to the UK government for complex trade negotiations, and that attention is likely to be focused on the more lucrative markets of Europe, Asia and North America, Commonwealth countries quite reasonably fear that they will be a relatively low priority for Brexit Britain.”
And he claimed concerns about issues like immigration could actually hold the UK back from tapping into the vast potential of countries like India, which might demand relaxation of visa restrictions in return for free trade.
Theresa May faces a struggle to secure a good Brexit deal
The criticisms echo those of other Remainers who have argued the Department for International Trade’s approach to post-Brexit trade are built on a fantasy about the golden days of the British empire.
Last week, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat, urged Britain to stop “neglecting” the Commonwealth and set out a future relationship with the union.
The Tory MP warned that “for too long” successive governments had talked about putting the “C” back in Foreign and Commonwealth Office “without investing the resources or energy to deliver” adding: “That has to change”.
Mr Tugendhat’s comments came as a new report by the committee of MPs called on the FCO to provide within the next three months a statement of the Government’s long-term vision for the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth and “clarify what the 52 other members can expect from a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain”‘.
It noted Britain would have a “unique position of leadership and influence” in hosting the Commonwealth Summit in London between April 16 and 20, with the UK assuming the Commonwealth Chair-in Office during the event until 2020.