As the UK hurtles towards an exit from the EU tearing up a Free Trade Deal with the richest trading bloc in the world, Jas Sansi asks, ‘Will increased trade outside of the EU offset tremors we will experience come 11pm on 29th March 2019?’
I have learned, nothing is free. There is no such thing as a free lunch, a free download, the free item in a buy one get one free offer. Nothing is ever free.
Consider our Free Trade Deal with the EU. The benefits of this relationship saw the UK grow to become the fifth richest country in the world. There is no doubt, post Empire when USA and USSR became super powers and Asia became an economic tiger, we were in danger of becoming an irrelevance. And yet, we found a place in the world, exercising our soft powers and world class education to punch repeatedly above our weight.
The Free Trade Deal with the EU was many things, but it was never free. The UK is the second biggest net contributor to the EU budget. If you were one who believed the statement splashed across the red Brexit Bus, this free trade deal cost us £350 Million a week. An unimaginable stretch of £50 notes stretching from here to Brussels.
And in return, what did we get? A flow of European workers who injected energy into the NHS for an ageing population. Academics who built our country’s reputation as home to the world’s greatest Universities; London boasts more academic institutions in the top twenty than any other city in the world. Here in Birmingham, we have more Universities than Florence, where Prime Minister Theresa May delivered her recent EU Speech.
There are approximately 17,000 Universities in the world, Cambridge University is recognised as the world’s number one. It juggles that honour with another university less than 87 miles away.
An infinite number of innovations from the Magnifying Glass to the World Wide Web began right here in the UK. An island race that helped shape the entire planet changing it beyond recognition.
The UK is a country built on values, they may not be perfect values but they are values we share with our European neighbours; Freedom, Equality, Liberty, The Rule of Law, Human Rights, LGBT rights, Respect, Health Care and Education for all.
As we look beyond the EU, for trade partnerships in distant lands, are we confident these values are shared by other countries? It is the foundation of these values that will cement the trade relationships with India, China and beyond.
And to those who say priority lies in trade and not shared values, I say a relationship that compromises who you are as a person, a community, a company and a nation is not a relationship. It is little more than a weak association that will end in acrimony and feud.
India is the country of my ancestors. My DNA was shaped by a religion founded in India, the Sikh faith. It is the values of this faith my parents bought with them to the UK and instilled in me as a child. These values were complemented by British values and European values.
Faith in India has been shaken this week with the news of a British citizen, Jagtar Singh Johal being snatched off the street in India and bundled into a van by plain clothed officers. His whereabouts, welfare and safety remain unknown. There is rumour of this 30 year old from Scotland being interrogated by Punjab Police. Interrogation in India is rarely good cop, bad cop.
This example illustrates the gap between the values of both countries. It reflects the impossibility of replicating a European trade deal with India. The two countries are too different in their value of human rights to engage in a free trade deal. The UK cannot turn a blind eye to institutional abuses as demonstrated in the case of Jagtar Singh Johal.
UK trade with the EU and the 50 countries who enjoy a free trade deal with the EU represents 61% of UK exports.
For a country like India to make up any future shortfall would require a free trade deal the like of which is politically impossible to deliver including visa restrictions lifted between the two countries.
The Jagtar Singh Johal case illustrates how far we are from even opening such a dialogue with India.
Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Birmingham, UK @jassansi