Britain should remember its old alliances such as the Commonwealth and revitalise trade and other relations with India and other countries in the group, British MPs have said as the country prepares to exit the European Union and its large single market.
A debate in the Westminster Hall of Parliament on Wednesday highlighted the vast potential for trade in the Commonwealth, with MPs urging the Theresa May government to use next month’s Commonwealth trade ministers meet here to focus on the group.
Minister for trade Greg Hands said a meeting with the immigration minister was due to discuss the recent demand of 45 MPs to fast-track visa services to citizens of India and the Commonwealth visiting Britain.
Conservative MP Jake Berry said: “(It) is at the time of our greatest national need that these countries (Commonwealth) have stood shoulder to shoulder with Britain. They have stood by us when, as a nation, we have faced our darkest hours.
“They have not forgotten our bond of shared culture and history that binds the Commonwealth together. It is now time for Britain to remember its old alliances. We must celebrate the Commonwealth and all that it represents.”
Focussing on the Commonwealth is not a “throwback to a sepia-tinted view” of the group, but makes sound economic sense, Berry said, noting that the group is a market that comprises 52 largely English-speaking countries with a combined population of 2.6 billion, covering a third of the globe.
Some 60% of its citizens are under 30, half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in it and it has a combined GDP of more than $10 trillion. It includes five G20 countries, with trade projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020.
MPs said talks on a trade deal with India will be helped significantly by the Indian diaspora of 1.4 million, and by the fact that India is currently the UK’s largest export market in the Commonwealth.
Simon Danczuk (Labour) said he worried that in the coming years, Britain will turn a blind eye to alleged police brutality in Jammu and Kashmir to secure a free trade deal with India, or that the Awami League government’s attacks on political and press freedoms in Bangladesh will be ignored as Britain increases economic ties with that country.
According to Barry Gardiner (Labour), “it would be foolish, to think that we in the UK may simply pick up where we left off before we joined the EU”. The world has changed, the power balance has changed and the nature of global trade has been transformed beyond recognition, he said.
“Yesterday, His Excellency YK Sinha, the new high commissioner for India in London, made that absolutely clear at a conference in East Anglia. He said the key to a post-Brexit free trade agreement would be to resolve the issue of workers’ mobility - how familiar does that sound from our Brexit debate?” Gardiner said.
“He made it clear that, for India, it is essential to ensure that its financial services and IT professionals could come to and go from the UK freely.”
Gardiner noted that none of Britain’s top 10 export partners is a Commonwealth country. In respect of those Commonwealth countries for which the government has announced trade working groups and dialogues, the volume of exports from the UK is extremely low.