The United Kingdom has become a member of a free trade bloc embracing 500 million consumers. And it isn’t the European Union. No wonder, then, that some Remainers are feeling triggered by Rishi Sunak’s success in steering Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
David Henig, UK director of the European Centre For International Political Economy and a longtime Remainer, griped: ‘It assists particularly those companies with trans-Pacific supply chains…The UK is mostly involved in European supply chains. And that’s why the economic impact is trivial. It could even be negative.’
The FT’s chief feature writer Henry Mance even used an old skit from Father Ted in which to mock Brexiteers, commenting: ‘Explaining to Brexiteers that it’s not just how big a market it is, it’s how near it is.’
With the deal confirmed, the UK is the first European nation to join a club boasting Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru and Brunei as members.
In signing up, we incur no free movement obligations and will not be required to make CPTPP law supreme over British law or pay net contributions running into billions of pounds.
In fact, membership will come with a responsibility to maintain national control over our regulatory and trade regime, thereby likely precluding us from ever rejoining key EU institutions (short of first withdrawing from the CPTPP). This also makes a ‘high-alignment’ strategy with the EU more difficult for any UK government to pull off long-term. That should be a source of some comfort at least to those hard-line ERG Tory Brexiteers who feared such a fate would automatically follow on from Sunak’s ‘Windsor Framework’ agreement with the EU.
By contrast, it is no doubt a source of particular soreness among British europhiles who were hoping an administration led by Keir Starmer would at least be able to take significant preliminary steps on a long march to ultimately rejoining the Brussels club. Some have taken to pointing out that the projected extra economic growth that will come from being in this alternative collective amounts to just 0.08 per cent of GDP over the next decade or so.
This, however, is guesswork based on ‘gravity’ trade models weighted heavily towards geographic proximity that are becoming less predictive of global economic flows. The real possibility of the US signing up in the next five years or so would drastically alter those calculations too.
The key point is that CPTPP membership will facilitate tariff-free access for 99 per cent of British-made goods to economies that are generally growing faster than European ones and already roughly match the combined GDP of the EU. The ‘Global Britain’ vision of a subset of Brexiteers may finally be taking wing.
As Rishi Sunak put it during a visit to Oxfordshire this week:
‘If we are able to accede that will be an exciting moment for the UK, great opportunity for all our businesses to export to a massive and fast-growing market and, again, just demonstrates the Government getting on with things that are going to make life better, create jobs across the country and deliver the benefits of Brexit.’
Not only is this a feather in his cap, but also in the cap of his Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch who took charge of the negotiations. Allies of Badenoch characterised the deal as being akin to what the European Economic Community could and should have become before the super-staters took a grip: an organisation ‘all about trade, not regulation and immigration.’
One does not have to possess Panglossian levels of optimism on his behalf to see in all this the seeds of a political brand for Sunak that might yet prove hard to beat at the ballot box: a calm presence who works hard, pays attention to detail and gets useful stuff done.
Barriers to entry against British products in the global marketplace are coming down. While barriers against fresh British entanglement in the nascent European superstate are going up. If that doesn’t actually amount to being the best of all possible worlds, then even for the hardest-to-please Tory Brexiteer, it still ought to be greeted as pretty good news.