Converging national and global interests

A GREAT BRITISH VIEW - Asif Ahmad - The Philippine Star

It seems that nationalist fervour is a global phenomenon. The sentiment of our time is for people to consider the relative importance of interests closer to home rather than issues that affect the world. Some say the decision of voters in the UK to leave the European Union is a reflection of a popular view that we should put national interest above global concerns. On the contrary, our response to the referendum is to step up our global engagement.

Britain is an integral part of Europe. Our shared history, values and culture underpin what defines the United Kingdom. Those of you who have been fascinated by The Crown and The Tudors will know that our Royal families are interconnected. The Royal Coat of Arms warns our potential rivals in French, honi sois qui mal y pense. It is only recent that our confidence in British cuisine has made it unnecessary to use French in the banquet menu’s of Buckingham Palace.

 Our diversity today has broadened beyond the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic roots to include people of the Commonwealth and the wider world. Our constitutional arrangement and legal code that arises from common law have always been very different to that of the continental systems. The EU’s journey of an ever closer political, economic and social union was not one that sat comfortably with Britain which has a limited appetite for pooling sovereignty.

We are not rejecting common values. There is no place in our society for bigotry, violence or discrimination. Our people and institutions will challenge any determination to roll back the rights of women. The LGBT community will be treated as citizens with rights. Religious freedom and practice will remain matters for individual choice with no need for the state to define dress codes.

We believe in an independent currency and our own immigration system to have greater options in dealing with changing circumstances. Out of the Euro zone, we have set the economy on a better course with action on public expenditure and borrowing. Inflation is under control with our own monetary policy. Controlled migration will enable us to ease the pressure on public services like schools, hospitals and infrastructure, including housing. We want to tackle the downward pressure on wages which has affected both long term workers as well as the upcoming generation. This will come through progressive industrial strategies. From Europe, Asia and elsewhere, we will continue to attract the brightest and best to work or study in Britain. Filipinos will fill vacancies where we have skill shortages.

Out of the EU, the UK will not abandon critical alliances. As part of NATO, and as one of only a handful of Allies to meet its commitment to defence spending of 2 percent of GDP, we are a strong guarantor of security from any aggression. We will continue to be a source of intelligence and know-how in challenging terrorism and extremism. Human rights including those affecting workers, will have its rightful place in law and government policy. Our foreign aid commitments will be met.

We will remain one of the strident proponents of free trade in the world. The cost of protectionism is paid for by consumers in terms of higher prices and poorer quality. The UK is seeking a customs arrangement with the EU that enables us to have tariff free trade in goods and services, including finance, on a fully reciprocal basis. Other EU members have higher investments and exports to the UK than we do across the English Channel. But we respect the rules of club which say that we cannot be full members of the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market and have our own free trade agreements around the world or immigration controls for EU citizens. Instead, we will seek a bold and ambitious FTA with the EU that reflects the interdependence of the UK and other European economies. At the same time, we will find ways to adopt agreements that have already been made, including the FTA with the Philippines if that is in place before Brexit. Countries like the USA, Australia and big trading partners have already signalled their enthusiasm for trade deals with the UK, which is now the fastest growing G7 country.

The orderly and responsible manner in which Britain will work its way out of the EU over the next 2 years or so will be founded on our history. The day we leave we will adopt all EU laws on to our own statutes. Over time, we will make amendments that reflect our needs better. The outcome will reflect the high principles and values we share. The UK will emerge from the transition, stronger, fairer, more united and outward looking. We will remain a secure, prosperous, tolerant country that is a magnet for international talent, investment and a home for innovators who will shape a better world.

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(Asif Ahmad is the Ambassador of the UK)

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