Brexit has its roots in the British Empire
So how do we explain it to the young? (by Sally Tomlinson and Danny Dorling)
The EU referendum is the last throes of Empire working its way out of our systems.
Is Brexit a marvellous opportunity to renew our imperial contacts? On the one hand we have UKIP, who tell us that “Outside the EU the world is our oyster, and the Commonwealth the pearl within”. Boris Johnson has been falling off his bike with enthusiasm for world trade outside the EU. On the other hand we have David Cameron banging on about 40 per cent of our trade being with the EU and the difficulty of doing deals with the rest of the world. What should we tell the children?
Of the over 100 former colonies, protectorates or dominions once ruled by Britain (depending on how you count them) 52 eventually transformed into the Commonwealth, although 31 are not that significant for trade. They still have populations of less than 1.2 million.
Persuading former colonial countries to sign trade deals might be difficult. The Trans-Pacific Partnership recently sealed between the USA, Japan and ten other Pacific Rim countries included five Commonwealth countries. Canada has already done a deal with the EU. The UK would have to negotiate separate trade deals with its larger former colonies, if they were agreeable.
Perhaps the Brexiters, if there are no specific agreements with the EU, will rely on negotiating trade agreements just like all other members of the World Trade Organisation. Or perhaps they are relying on recreating the Empire Marketing Board, which worked to support British Trade in the 1920s. The Board produced 72 reports over ten years, extolling imperial trade. Included in these were “A book of Empire Dinners”, “A Calender of Fruits and Vegetables from the Empire”, and “Why Every woman should buy British”. A recipe included with this last missive described how to make the King’s Empire Christmas Pudding, to be cooked entirely out of Empire ingredients. Perhaps they could also suggest that we resurrect the Professorial Chair in Imperial Economic Relations at the LSE, funded by the Empire Marketing Board?