Global Britain: Brexit and opportunities for New Zealand

By Jonathan Sinclair, British High Commissioner

On 17 January, British Prime Minister Theresa May set out the UK government’s vision for a future strategic partnership between the UK and EU. What does this mean for the UK and for Kiwis?

The Prime Minister was clear: Britain is leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share, nor an attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore the UK’s parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.

So we will stay reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our neighbours. And we want to be a truly Global Britain — a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe and builds relationships with new allies and old friends, including New Zealand.

Formal negotiations on Brexit will begin once the UK triggers Article 50 before the end of March. The Prime Minister set out 12 objectives for the UK in those negotiations: Certainty wherever possible. Control of our own laws. Strengthening the United Kingdom. Maintaining the Common Travel Area with Ireland. Control of immigration. Rights for EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals in the EU. Enhancing rights for workers. Free trade with European markets. New trade agreements with other countries. A leading role in science and innovation. Cooperation on crime, terrorism and foreign affairs. And a phased approach, delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit.

I will pick out two of these of particular interest to New Zealand:

Trade with and beyond Europe

The UK wants the EU to be a success and we want its remaining member states to prosper. So, while leaving the Single Market, our aim will be to agree a bold and ambitious free trade agreement between the UK and EU that removes as many barriers as possible to trade in goods and services.

But many in Britain have always felt that the UK’s place in the European Union came at the expense of our global ties, and of a bolder embrace of free trade with the wider world. So we will also look beyond the EU, and seek to negotiate our own trade agreements with key partners. That is where New Zealand fits in.

The UK is already New Zealand’s fifth largest bilateral trading partner, and the second largest foreign investor here. As Prime Minister May said after meeting Prime Minister English in London last week, we see the potential — once we have left the EU — for a bold new UK-New Zealand free trade agreement.

So, while the UK remains in the EU, we will continue to support an EU-New Zealand trade deal. And through our new UK-New Zealand Trade Policy Dialogue, we will begin to look to the future. We will together push for greater global trade liberalisation, share expertise and identify ways to strengthen our trade and investment partnership.

Control of Immigration

My Prime Minister also made clear that the UK will want to ensure we can control immigration to Britain from Europe. In the last decade, we have seen record levels of net migration in Britain — net migration last year was 330,000, with around half from within the EU. Our overall population has risen 2.5 million since 2010. That sheer volume has put pressure on infrastructure, especially housing, and services such as health and education.

But while controlling immigration, we will continue to welcome the brightest and the best — from Europe, from New Zealand and from around the world — to work or study in Britain. As Prime Minister May said, the UK should be a “magnet for international talent… Openness to international talent is and will remain one of the UK’s most distinctive assets”.

New Zealanders enjoy the most favourable migration arrangements into the UK of any country outside the EU. All Kiwis can visit the UK for up to six months visa free. For those who need a visa, 97% of applications are approved. There are 12,000 places for New Zealanders under the UK’s Youth Mobility Scheme, which gives under-30s the right to live and work in the UK for 2 years. This is an increase on recent years. Last year, only 4,000 of those places were used. So I want to encourage young New Zealanders to take up the opportunity to live and work in the UK.

Although the UK is leaving the EU, we believe that, with ambition and imagination, we can construct a new and equal partnership that strengthens both the UK and the EU, and that allows the UK to strengthen its relationships across the world. In this context, our partnership with New Zealand is more important than ever.