Okay. I’ll admit it. I watched ITV’s Victoria instead of Poldark. The costumes, the youthful, liberal, this-girl-does-what-she-wants attitude – I loved it, and they’ve promised another season in 2017. The directors trembled excitedly at each liberal step against the old elite by the new monarchy, culminating in the frenzy of the penultimate episode when Prince Albert publicly showed his support for the abolition of slavery across the British Empire. I wonder if they’ll make such a fuss over an event that’s extremely relevant at the moment: the repeal of the Corn Laws, 1846. Wait, what?
The Corn Laws, tariffs on corn imports that meant that while Tory landowners benefited from high prices, everyday people had to pay those prices. The repeal signalled an end to British isolationism. Yet Tory landowners (suddenly turned prophets) foresaw an age of economic doom. Britain actually experienced The Great Victorian Boom: 30 years of economic success, all down to the move to free trade pushed through parliament by Sir Robert Peel. Well great, why should we care today?
There’s a trend emerging. A growth in support for radical right-wing politicians prophesying the only way to take back control or make their country great again is by cutting ties with foreigners, and abandoning free trade. As in free trade, which Britain hasn’t looked back from in 170 years? Yes, that free trade. In America Donald Trump has gone against it. He completely opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), calling it “a rape of our country”. In 2012 Hilary Clinton said the “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements”. She helped negotiate the deal. Now, in a bid to win over Trump’s supporters, she has changed her mind. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.” And this trend of hate for free trade has dribbled across The Pond. It’s odd, because companies only selling their products in the domestic market offer far less in wages than those that export their goods. Free trade leads to better paid workers, and still Britain voted to leave the EU, to reject globalisation, and to reject free trade with Europe. But it’s fine! Forget Europe, a huge block of countries willing to partake in free trade right next to us! We have the Commonwealth. We can trade with India (that famously protectionist country). Maybe not. But Canada, they love us. They’d definitely trade with us. (Apart from the minor fact that they’ve spent the last seven years negotiating a free trade deal with the EU and wouldn’t risk that by associating with a recent EU outcast.) Oh but America, that country we created. We made the language; we’re their greatest friends. This is the answer. There is a little hurdle. Some question why the US would consider trading with a little island riddled with political, social, and economic uncertainty when they could trade with the EU. But the US and Britain – we’re buddies right?
Britain’s divided between people who voted on hope and those who voted on facts. Now we all hope that Brexit will benefit Britain and the economy, but most remainers realise that hope doesn’t pay the bills. Facts do. Financial certainty is needed, but instead Brexiteers are pushing for a hard Brexit because they hope it will work. They hope the economy will succeed. They hope we will rise above the earth on a mountain of pound coins and break into a land of heavenly bliss. Enticing, but I prefer the tried, tested, and proven methods. The pound is steadily dropping. The FTSE 100 is steadily improving, and that’s a bad sign (see my article). I won’t lie, when I heard about the Tesco-Unilever pricing dispute I thought it was beginning. Again I hope I am wrong. I hope that Brexit is the start of a new golden age in Britain. But again, hope doesn’t pay the bills. We’re not only heading towards a rejection of free trade, which has undoubtedly benefitted Britain since the move from protectionism 170 years ago, but a rejection of democracy too. Recently MPs were facing no say over the Brexit negotiations. Instead all would be decided by an elite few, who happen to be in power. Thankfully the British justice system ruled in favour of parliamentary democracy. Yet this elite still claims that the British people voted to leave the EU because of immigration. Funnily enough I don’t remember the ‘state your reasons for your choice’ area on the ballot paper. Most people hope we aren’t heading for an undemocratic Britain, a country of isolationism and protectionists, but then again, hope hasn’t proven too successful so far.