The Express: Hold your nerve May and Australia will be open for free trade

When the British people voted to leave the EU we Australians thought it was a pretty simple proposition.

As outside observers, we weren’t confused about what Brexit meant. We thought it meant leaving the political and economic structures of the EU. Surely, no-one on this planet thought leaving the EU meant leaving the political institutions – the European Council, the Parliament, the Commission, the Court of Justice and so on – but staying in the economic arrangements – like the customs union and the single market.

As the Australian High Commissioner, I sat through Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech.

Perfect, I thought. Countries like Australia, America, Japan and so on would be able to negotiate free trade agreements with the UK and the UK would also have a free trade agreement with the EU.

It was common sense that the UK could have it’s own immigration policy; the British Government would decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

At that speech, I noticed something ominous. It’s normal to applaud speeches at their conclusion.

It’s polite. On that day, two years ago, not one EU ambassador applauded. That, I thought, spells trouble.

It’s been downhill ever since. We Australians now can’t see how we will ever be able to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK. The same for America, Japan, China and so on.

Here’s why. The EU told the British government that it couldn’t leave the EU economic arrangements until it said so. In other words, Great Britain would be locked in to EU economic rules and regulations for as long as the EU wanted.

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