Brexit: a chance to revive the Commonwealth?

Athena Zabidi:


On Friday morning, Britons woke up to the news of Britain leaving the European Union, in a historic referendum which put an end to Britain’s 43-year membership. The adverse economic effects of this have already taken place – the pound has plummeted to 1985 levels, dipping to around $1.32. London, Paris, and Frankfurt stock markets have also seen a dip of around 8% overnight. Brexit also foresees Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation, causing a huge cloud of uncertainty and instability in the UK and the EU, which in turn has led to a global shake up.

One of the most important issues surrounding Britain’s decision to leave the EU is trade. Invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the UK a two-year deadline to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU. Britain will not only lose preferential access to the EU’s single market, but will likely also suffer from the EU’s imposition of stricter import tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Plus, Obama has noted that Brexit will put the UK “at the back of the queue” for trade talks with the United States. Britain also loses access to free trade deals with 53 countries, including South Korea and Canada that have been negotiated by the EU, and will have to start over.

But could this all signal the revival of Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth? Many of the world’s developing countries and fastest growing economies are Commonwealth members, including Tanzania, Rwanda, and Malaysia, who have all seen annual GDP growth rates of more than 4% in the past few years. The use of the English language and Common Law practices make these countries even more attractive as investment hotspots for Britain. Will fostering relationships with the 2.2 billion Commonwealth citizens across six continents encourage economic growth in this countries, or will damaging colonial history repeat itself?

That being said – has the UK’s EU membership stifled UK relations with Commonwealth countries? Being Pro-Commonwealth does not mean being Anti-EU. It is impossible to say what the long term effects of a Brexit is for Britain, the EU and the developing world, but if the Commonwealth is Britain’s first port of call for better bilateral trade agreements, we can at least expect to see a silver lining for the emerging economies.