“No man is an island”, according to the 17th century poet John Donne – it is a fair bet he will never make the Brexiter’s top ten of poets, if you read the rest of the text of his poem. However, Brexit sets to turn the UK’s back on the EU in a much more comprehensive sense than just economic terms. It is a burning of the bridges, a cutting of the ties that have been forged between the UK and other member states of what is, and perhaps should more often have been called, the European Union rather than the anonymous EU.
The Brexit dream is that the UK should unfetter itself from EU regulation and be free to forge new trade deals with the rest of the world (of course, the EU already does this on behalf of all of its members and where no specific beneficial deal exists, its members trade with the rest of the world under the EU WTO schedule). In leaving the EU, the UK not only loses its membership of the Single Market, but it will cease to benefit from any of the free trade deals that the EU has with the rest of the world. The UK hopes to be able to copy and paste these deals, but whilst that is in UK interests, it is not in EU interests nor necessarily in the interests of third party countries who may be able to get more preferential deals with the UK alone than with it as a member of a 28-strong trading bloc.
Brexit logic claims that all trading blocs are protectionist, benefitting their members to the exclusion of the outside world. It is strange, therefore, that the UK is engaged in informal talks about joining the Trans Pacific Partnership which involves 11 nations as doing so would surely tie it to abiding by that blocs trading standards and regulations. The UK sends 8% of its exports to current TPP members, with the lion’s share going to Japan (with whom the EU has recently signed a free-trade deal).
Sceptics will suggest that the extension of exploratory talks with the TPP, a body quite literally on the other side of the world, is a hallmark of desperation by the UK government as it seeks to leave a trading bloc which is the largest and most successful in the world and with which it shares greater proximity and a land border.