1 February 2021

From CPTPP to welcoming the Hongkongers, Global Britain is taking shape

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Global Britain became very real this weekend. As the EU threatened to seize vaccines and impose a hard border on the isle of Ireland, the noises out of our own sceptred isle could hardly have been more different. With the vaccine programme going strong, ministers have started to sound off about handing surplus stock to friends and neighbours — the hint being that Ireland will be given some extra doses, possibly along with the CANZUK states left hanging by the EU’s export ban plan.

Beyond the vaccine drama, though, were two more important moves that set the scene for our post-Brexit foreign policy. Yesterday the Government righted an historic wrong, and granted all Hong Kong-born residents of the territory the right to a British National (Overseas) passport, with new residency and work rights here in the UK. Hong Kong Brits now have a home in Blighty and the cold, calllous grasp of the Chinese Communist Party is today a little looser. Nothing our government has done in recent years has made me prouder than the recognition that Britons can be found right around the world.

And it’s a path strongly supported by the British people. Ministers were up front about the numbers involved in the British National’s residency and work right offer. 350,000 BNO passport holders had the immediate right and up to 3.7m could claim a passport and move if they wanted to. That honesty was rewarded, with 64% of voters in favour of the plan and just 22% against. The public overwhelmingly see the British Hong Kongers as equal to those born in the UK, just as they see Falkland islanders or Gibraltarians as British. We’re all British wherever we may be, irrespective of creed or skin colour.

Yet the law does not yet reflect that fact. As a new report released today by the Adam Smith Institute makes clear. Written by ConservativeHome’s Henry Hill and human rights lawyer Andrew Yong, the paper argues that British citizenship needs a comprehensive overhaul to address the situation of British nationals without full automatic residency and work rights in the UK – a status that amounts to second-class citizenship.

Windrush migrants, Armed Forces veterans, residual British nationals and other long-term UK residents have all recently been victims of immigration and nationality requirements and fees that are inflexible, over-prescriptive and extortionately expensive. Immigration fees, first introduced in 2003, have risen 15-fold since then, with a family of four now looking at shelling out £15,000 to become full British citizens. Hongkongers that are British Nationals (Overseas) will also face fees to become British citizens. If China or Hong Kong’s puppet government revoke the citizenship of those that come here, our people will be left semi-stateless and in political limbo, with a snake pit of technicalities waiting to trip them up. We should pre-empt this by removing the costs and barriers to being as equally British as the rest of us at home here.

Out into the Pacific

On trade, too, we are seeing hugely encouraging signs of progress. Today, the UK is formally applying to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It is a big deal for me personally as I have been arguing that we should do this for four years. It marks a sea change in British foreign policy, instead of focusing primarily on Europe, we’re looking at engaging with the wider world again. It’s all very Adam Smith, and wonderfully CapX.

Should our application succeed, the UK would be the 12th member of a £13 trillion pan-Pacific free trade area along with key allies like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. This emerging bloc is busy setting gold standard trade rules in digital and services, and we should aim to become rule-makers with our allies, instead of rule-takers outside the bloc. This is the world’s growth region and fixing on increasing our global trade is a solid move while we address issues arising from the EU FTA and animal products in Northern Ireland.

Indeed, taking inspiration from the Pacific region’s existing trade deals will be key to progress on that front. The New Zealand and EU deal, for instance, has a better SPS deal than we do, with just 1% of goods subject to checks. The EU’s insanity over medicines and vaccines this week has shown how important it is for all sides to reform medicines regulation, with 98% of medicines entering Northern Ireland from the UK but just 11 months until they’re all under the EU’s jurisdiction.

We should also be learning from the financial services deals done between Australia and Singapore. The Trans-Tasman agreement should give us inspiration on getting property rights for Brits wanting to buy in New Zealand and improving labour mobility when we do deals with our Antipodean cousins, and Australia’s E3 visa with the USA is another policy we should considering emulating.

The most immediate benefit for Britons from CPTPP membership would be access to cool products from Asia that would otherwise take a decade or more to land on our shelves. And if we ignore the National Farmers Union and go all out for zero tariffs and zero quotas, our consumers could get beautiful Kobe beef and prime Australian produce, and Asian consumers can get cheaper Welsh lamb and Aberdeen Angus in return. Watch out for a lot of hyperbolic talk about geographic indicators though — we protect a lot of producers with them and CPTPP nations have an issue with them, but the recent deal with Japan suggests it’s not a deal-breaker, so long as there is tit-for-tat.

Beyond food, rules of origin is a key component of the CPTPP. The agreement allows content from all CPTPP countries to be ‘diagonally cumulated’. That means that, should a good be required to have a certain percentage come from the CPTPP to avoid tariffs, companies can use raw products or components from across a combination of CPTPP countries.

Taking all these very positive developments together, the caricature of Brexiteers as a bunch of inward-looking English nationalists has never looked more misplaced. A government of the Leave campaign’s leading lights is focused on a bright future for Britain on the global stage: CPTPP application in, Hong Kong Brits in, jabs in. Out and into the world indeed.

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Matt Kilcoyne is Deputy Director of the Adam Smith Institute.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.