Could an Australian APEC style visa system save post-Brexit Britain?


This article originally appeared in the Independent on 14 September 2016, here.

I am disappointed in the Brexit vote, no doubt. I am particularly disappointed that my right to Freedom of Movement within the EU is being taken away from me – without my consent.

But I take the Prime minister at her word. ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

We must now turn our minds to creating opportunities for post Brexit Britain. What will the overarching narrative of post-EU Britain be? How will we look at ourselves as Britons and how do we wish to be perceived? What opportunities can we as a nation create and grasp?

Many have said that Britain can now ‘look outward’ again and ‘re-engage’ with the world. While these populist platitudes sounded inspiring to some in the Brexit campaign, the erroneous slogans ignored the fact that Britain was neither inward looking nor disengaged from the world prior to Brexit.

That having been said Britain now has to set a new tone. We as a nation need to decide what our raison d’être, if I may borrow a European expression, is to be.

Pre-Europe was WW2. Pre WW2 was the Depression. Before thaenthe Great War define us and before that was the Age of Empire. Clearly the Age of Empire is not returning. The days of the world map being pink are gone. So what are we?

Will we be a little island off Europe that, like Iceland, has a football team which occasionally over-performs? Or can we be like Singapore, another island nation that well punches above its weight? Is there a role for a new major trading nation on The Continent’s edge?

While some argued for a strong reconnection with the Commonwealth, Britain needs to be careful not to be perceived as trying to restore a neo-colonialist style leadership. If Britain were to do that it may find the welcome mat pulled from the entire continent of Africa. But Britain could look to offer the Commonwealth a great service by taking some ideas that Australia has pushed in Asia. Britain could champion them for the Commonwealth.

Back in the 1990s Australia led the way in pushing for the creation and strengthening of APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation – once described cynically as four nouns looking for a verb. Whilst APEC had many political objectives, one of its greatest successes thus far has been in business, in part through the easing of travel regulations for those doing business.

Senior business leaders in APEC member economies – including the US, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, China, Philippines and others – can obtain, each three years, a pre-approved multi-entry business visa called the APEC Business Travellers Card. This wonderful little card avoids constan visa applications and speeds through customs via the use of the diplomatic channel at airports .

I am a dual national of Australia and the U.K. I have, through my business dealings, been granted a BTC, that massively speeds up buisness travel and relations. The lack of need to gain visas for travels to China, Vietnam and Russia, combined with skipping the nightmare International to Domestic transfer in Los Angeles, is a god-send.

Could Britain, as a signal of its new ‘re-engagement’ with the Commonwealth, champion the creation of a BTC for Commonwealth economies? New Zealand and Australia are sure to support such a move. Many African nations would welcome such an improvement of travel. It could make the Commonwealth meaningfuan for business and something practical again.

The former Commonwealth Business Council was trying to push for better links between the business communities of Commonwealth countries, in part to enhance economic growth and impart to act as a collective competitor to Chinese investment in Africa. However the organisation failed under weight of alleged corruption and mis-management accusations.

There is a gap here, where collaboration between Commonwealth business could benefit from leadership. And Britain could lead the push not as a colonial overlord, but as a service provider to Commonwealth countries.

If Britain were to push for an APEC style Business Travellers system, and work to create better collaboration between Commonwealth businesses, we could more effectively compete with China’s influence particularly in Africa. Britain could emerge from the EU and re-engage as a strong independent force for trade.

If Britain can make this small start, build on the APEC style Business Traveller’s Card for the Commnwealth, build into a collaboration between businesses to counter-balance China as the former Commonwealth Business Council wanted, then we are on the first step of re-creating an island trading nation where perhaps our nation’s narrative will be the ‘Singapore for Europe’ and the hinge between the Commonwealth and The Continent.

As we move from Summer to Autumn and people returning from holidays now focus on the reality of Brexit, we need to disentangle ourselves from Europe, from the European narrative and give ourselves a new positive image.

The Hinge for the Commonwealth and the Singapore for Europe. Now that is a post-Brexit Britain worth living in.

Andrew MacLeod is a visiting Professor at Kings College London and a Non Executive Director of Cornerstone Capital in the US. He was a Remain campaigner and has now combined with Brexit campaigners to form Brexit Advisory Services at UK’s Griffin Law. He can be followed @AndrewMMacLeod.


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