Where does Brexit leave us in terms of Trade?

One of the most oft-repeated maxims of the past six months is that we are now living in a post-truth politics. It is so omnipresent, because, ironically, it is true, and it has been true about nothing else as it has been about the EU referendum.

I think it is important to not see the referendum as the previews to the American presidential election’s opening night, although it is tempting to do so. Although on a global scale many populist movements are rising-- many of them right-wing and reactionary-- none of them are identical in scope or character. Nigel Farage stood beside Donald Trump on a stage and spoke a similar language, but not the same one. One is clueless about governance, the other an old hand, and both claim outsider status. Donald Trump is winning despite having no experience. Nigel Farage is considered a maverick despite having been an MEP for 15 years. They are merely brothers, not identical twins, in sowing the seeds of division and hatred. 

But they are taking advantage of similar levels of ignorance, where blaming your neighbour is easier than blaming market forces, and an extremely clear example of this is the public attitude to international trade in our new, increasingly globalised world. Donald Trump does not practice what he preaches, but it doesn’t matter. Of many, many examples, Donald Trump preaches the importance of American made, but favours Italian suits-- but when he does this, it's different. When he does this, it’s not a betrayal, but a sign of affluence, and, apparently, greed is good. He tells us so all the time, so that, too, must be true. 

On the day of the referendum, I stood in the garden of a man who worked in the automotive industry trying to convince him that a vote to leave the EU could cost him his job. We live in a region that exports more than it imports, and which has a significant part to play in the international car industry. Car factories built in the North East of England were built to have easy access to the European Union, and throughout the referendum we heard numerous car companies insinuate or out-and-out state that they would seriously consider moving their factories if the UK voted to leave. I said this to this man, standing in his garden, in the blisteringly hot sun, and he said that it didn’t matter. We would sell the cars to somebody else, in South America maybe. I left that man’s garden knew that even though he said to me that he was undecided, he was going to vote to leave. It didn’t matter what he said to me, and it didn’t matter what I said to him: my facts wouldn’t change his beliefs.

This was a case where facts didn't matter. It is easy to say that we can trade with other countries, but it shows a lack of understanding of how trade works-- perhaps a lack of understanding that politics as-is fosters. Of course you can sell cars to South America, but first you have to get them there, and that costs serious money. Of course you can sell fruit to Australia, but first you have to make sure it survives the journey to ripen when it arrives. Of course you can sell to whoever you want, but deliberately sabotaging the biggest market you already have is something no good business adviser would ever tell you do to. But on the 23rd of June, we did. 

From an American angle, we now live in a world where our trade relationship as it existed with the USA is now rendered obsolete. Our trade deals with the USA were negotiated through and signed by the EU, acting on behalf of its 28 member states. If we accept that we are leaving the European Union, which more than 17 million people have demanded we must, we will virtually be starting from scratch. TTIP -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- the massive trade deal which would have regulated American/EU trade in order to make it easier, is now effectively dead in the water, especially without the British government to push for it, as the Conservatives have always been its strongest advocates. It had been highlighted by some groups, including the AFL-CIO that TTIP had in theory the possibility that American labour standards could be improved, but this, too, is now probably an impossibility. 

It is also, in theory, exciting to live in a world full of such infinite possibilities. It is unfortunate that in practice these possibilities are likely to be very bad for everyone who is not a multinational corporation. If we are doomed or blessed to live in a post-truth politics, perhaps the way to take back control of the narrative is to change it. An issue raised on the left about TTIP was that it was negotiated in secret, that the people who elected their negotiators wished to know exactly what it was being negotiated on their behalf. There are unlikely to be many good consequences of our exit from the European Union, but the hope of a more open world might at least be one.

Mercedes Broadbent is a Young Fabian member attending the USA Delegation

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