Brexit and Trump Mean Globalization Is Changing, Not Ending

Farage and Trump
Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump shakes hands with Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, on August 24. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

This is an edited extract taken from the Great Brexit Swindle by T.J. Coles, which is published in the U.K. by Clairview Books.

Across the U.S. and the U.K., politics has become increasingly unpredictable. First, the Conservative Party swept to power in Britain's 2015 general election, defying most of the polls which had predicted a hung parliament. Next, 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the EU, again confounding pollsters' expectations. Then, on November 8, came the bombshell: Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election.

Post-Brexit and post-Trump it might seem like we're entering a new era of anti-free trade and pro-isolationism politics. But that's not quite right. Free trade isn't over, it's just its structure that's changing.

According to polling data published by Lord Ashcroft, the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, the slight majority of Britons who voted for Brexit did so primarily because they had been globalization's losers and felt that decisions about the U.K. should be made in Britain.

For these voters, Brexit was a chance to stick it to the establishment. Pro-leave politicians promised reinvestments in failed and failing British industries and a curb on immigration, which they said was straining the economy.

In the Financial Times, the U.K.'s former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson wrote that "Brexit gives us the opportunity to make the U.K. the most dynamic and freest country in the whole of Europe." Away from the regulations of the EU, Lawson added, the U.K. would be able "to strike trade deals with the faster-growing countries of the world."

Many, it seems, will be receptive.

In July, the Financial Times reported that Brazil's Foreign Minister, José Serra, was keen to supplement existing free trade talks between Mercosur [South America's trading bloc] and the EU with similar negotiations with the U.K.

"Our idea is to open right away a negotiation between Mercosur and the U.K., which has a more open economy and has a very important position in relation to investment in Brazil yet imports relatively little from Brazil," Serra said. The minister added that he would also try and convince Mercosur members to back a trade and investment deal with the U.K.

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Two of the other BRICS nations—an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—have expressed interested in trade deals with the U.K. The first, China, has had a close relationship with Britain since May, when George Osborne, the then chancellor of the exchequer announced that the U.K. had made available the first ever Renminbi sovereign bond to international markets.

Osborne's successor, Philip Hammond, looks set to continue the U.K's closeness with Beijing. On November 10, after Hammond met with China's Vice-Premier Ma Kai, the U.K. government announced that the Chinese company CITIC Construction would invest $250 million in the first phase of the Chinese-led Royal Albert Docks building project in London. In turn, the U.K. government said, it would invest up to $50 million in the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The third BRICS nation keen to court Britain is India. The failure of the EU to settle a trade deal with the country has prompted its lawmakers to seek one instead with the U.K. But this doesn't mean that Britain is second-best. Swapan Dasgupta, a member of India's parliament said of the EU that negotiating with "twenty-five constituent countries with their own pluses and minuses," hinders agreement. "You are not going to get to some sort of common ground," Dasgupta added. "There is a far greater chance of it with the U.K."

Mexico, it seems, agrees. After Brexit, the country's finance minister Luis Videgaray said that Mexico has drafted a trade deal with the U.K. At present, 0.7 percent of Mexico's exports go to Britain, equating to $4.3 billion. The U.K. government has described Mexico as a "manufacturing powerhouse" accounting for over 60 percent of Latin America's manufacturing exports.

These examples show that far from closing its borders to trade, Britain is opening them. But though this may cheer people like Lawson, it is likely to anger the tens of thousands of working-class people who voted for Brexit.

TJ Coles studies blindness and visual impairment at Plymouth University (UK) and is the author of Britain's Secret Wars (2016, Clairview Books).