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Trade, Britannia! Why We Must Make A Success Of Brexit

05/10/2016 17:03

My favourite Scottish pub is The Clansman in downtown Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, the country of my birth. The Clansman is the official HQ of the Baku Bears - the local Rangers Supporters Club. Most of my Scottish friends, however, support Celtic, represented by the Bhoys of Baku, the Celtic Supporters Club of Azerbaijan. I don't particularly mind and am glad that the Scottish community in Baku (twinned with Aberdeen) is thriving, part of the global British Diaspora.

Over the past twenty years UK emerged as the largest foreign investor and BP as the largest foreign company in Azerbaijan. A long extension to the multi-billion pound oil contract signed over two decades ago is currently being negotiated and BP is robust in defending its preeminent position in the Caspian region. The company also plays a dominant role in developing Azerbaijan's considerable natural gas reserves and delivering them to European markets via the ambitious Southern Gas Corridor, currently under construction.

Trade between Azerbaijan (population 10 million) and Britain is booming across sectors - from energy to hospitality, engineering to construction. Hundreds of UK companies have invested in Azerbaijan and trade turnover between the two countries stood at near £150 million in the first quarter of this year, most of which accounted for imports from the UK, according to Azerbaijan's State Customs Committee. And this success comes despite severe limitations EU membership places on Britain's ability to pursue full trade relations with countries such as Azerbaijan.

UK trading outposts, like the one in Baku, can be found across the world - from Eurasia to South America, Middle East and Africa. This is in no small part due to consistently excellent work of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Trade, which in my view has come under unfair criticism since the referendum in June. Over the years the Department had sent numerous trade missions to far corners of the world, developing new relationships and building new partnerships, which can now be used as a foundation for Britain's post-Brexit global economic strategy.

The idea that Britain could have pursued such a strategy whilst remaining inside the European Union is simply false. Let's leave aside for a moment the stalled TTIP process and even slower negotiations with Mercosur. The EU, with its overbearing political ideology and cumbersome bureaucracy, had proved incapable of securing trade deals and partnerships even with its neighbours. After years of negotiations Azerbaijan recently rejected EU's offer of an Association Agreement. As did the neighbouring Armenia, which instead chose to join Russian-led Eurasian Union. Further East, beyond the Caspian Sea, the EU has no discernible presence.

Georgia did sign up to an EU agreement but paid the price of permanently losing control of breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, de-facto annexed by Russia. In Ukraine the EU Association Agreement negotiations in 2013-14 resulted in a violent overthrow of the elected president, separatist movements in the East of the country, secession and subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea. To add insult to Ukrainian injury the Agreement was then scuppered by Dutch voters in a referendum and will not be ratified until all 27 EU member-states accede to it.

Brussels engages with those outside the EU, especially the developing countries (and sometimes its own members, e.g. Greece recently), with a mixture of sanctimonious superiority, cynical self-interest and often ruthless indifference. Yet in the eyes of many of those outside the Single Market, the European Union is nothing but a protectionist cartel which believes in its own liberal myth. I recall attending a meeting in 2003 and observing Moldovan diplomats roll their eyes listening to some unelected Brussels bureaucrat lecturing them about the values of democracy and importance of anti-corruption measures. This is from folks who brought you the Santer Commission...

The root-cause of EU's failure to negotiate successful trade deals without causing conflicts with other powers, such as Russia, lies in its political ideology. Instead of focusing on economic cooperation and trade and, for example, securing flexible arrangements which take into account geo-political realities, the EU had for years sought quite literally to enlarge and expand its borders (an idea mischievously supported by Britain), to gain exclusive access and political control of markets at the expense of others, and to enforce its normative agenda in the newly acquired territories.

Instead of trade deals Brussels insists on exclusive political affiliations via Association Agreements and other instruments, which come with a plethora of political conditions that have nothing to do with business and commerce. No wonder such a discriminatory and zero-sum approach provokes hostile reactions from countries with whom we could be trading instead of competing. EU is not an economic union - it is a political ideological bureaucracy which expands to meet the needs of the expanding political ideological bureaucracy. EU elites' angry, arrogant and outright hostile response to Brexit vote should not, therefore, come as a surprise - our decision represents an existential challenge to the political ideology and the very legitimacy of European supra-nationalism.

Even if one does not consider the EU to be a conflict-prone, expansionist, protectionist cartel, it cannot be denied that its share of the global market is shrinking. Asia, Africa, South America are the continental regions of future global economic growth. This is where we must go to trade and invest post-Brexit. Now there is no market too small or too large for Britain to try to get its share of. Leaving the EU comes with obvious risks, whilst opportunities that leaving can bring require a lot of effort and hard work to fulfil. Yet the rewards of such efforts can potentially be immense in the long run, heralding the return of Britain as an independent global trading power.

However, instead of optimism and globetrotting energy the EU referendum generated a predictably negative reaction from the defeated Remain camp and a sense of general doom and gloom. The state of public discourse at the moment is more of a "panic and whine" variety than the "keep calm and carry on" tradition this country is famed for. The implicit Euro-centrism of this discourse is also on display.

To listen to the prophets of Brexit doom and it would seem there is literally nothing and nowhere worthwhile on Planet Earth apart from the Single Market. This insular world-view and closed mindset are a product of decades of EU institutionalisation and Borg-like assimilation of British public opinion and democracy. Even as local councillors, for example, we are bound by a myriad EU regulations and any decision above £40,000 mark goes through European tendering system.

This is all over. Britain is an independent country now. Political class in this country has been instructed to secure British exit from the European Union. To be fair, the Remainers (I was a soft Remain supporter too) had warned the electorate of potential risks of Brexit and the electorate made the decision to leave anyway by a margin of over two million people - that's the entire population of Latvia, an EU member state. There can be no second-guessing the result, no attempts to subvert and negate it. Calls for a second referendum are a nasty affront to democracy.

Finally, let me touch on the issue of immigration and post-Brexit racism. Britain needs tens of thousands of young, highly-skilled and educated migrants every year in order to meet various demographic and economic pressures. Whatever the system will be post-Brexit (points-based, quotas etc.) Britain will be in control of immigration. But the tiny racist minority in this country will be left very disappointed - most post-Brexit migrants will be coming from countries like Brazil, Kenya and India. Meanwhile, those members of my, Muslim, community and other ethnic minorities worried about post-Brexit rise in racist incidents, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, should take a look at France, Germany or Austria, where neo-Nazis are winning actual elections.

And if you are concerned with racism and Islamophobia you should consider the situation in Eastern Europe, for example that self-declared bastion of European values - Hungary . In aforementioned Ukraine, aspirant to EU membership, they pogrom the Roma people. Now, in 2016, not 1916. They'd probably pogrom Jews too, had any Jews survived previous pogroms and the Holocaust.

I may have voted Remain but I never had any illusions about the continent, which increasingly has a distinct whiff of the 1930s about it. We must stand up to and stamp out racist behaviour in the UK but let's keep in mind that on the continent they are banning Muslim womenswear, whilst in Britain we have Muslim Secretaries of State, MPs, mayors and councillors. This land of opportunity is a kind, tolerant, green and pleasant place to live. Let's appreciate what we have and cherish it. Britain. Is. Great.

I will conclude by accepting that Brexit may turn out to be a difficult, even at times painful national experience. And that is all the more reason why it must be made a success in the end. Let's go forth and trade, Britannia!

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