By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Still, global firms with operations in the UK are making contingency plans. Ahead of the formal exit of Britain from the EU in March 2019, JP Morgan, an American bank, has begun to relocate some of its London-based employees arocss the EU, for instance. Add to the mix for them the possibility that Brexit might not even happen at all; and thus all that expensive scenario planning becoming all for naught. In fact, there is a cohort of influential and powerful politicians and businessmen believed to be making a concerted effort towards stopping Brexit or making it as soft as possible. In late June, for instance, former British prime minister Tony Blair called for Brexit to be delayed in a chat with British think tank Chatham House: “We should plan now for the possibility we need to extend the March 2019 deadline”. A delayed or soft Brexit are probably the only options left now: Queen Elizabeth assented to the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 in June. So, yes, unless there is a change to the law, the United Kingdom will exit the European Union either in March 2019 or later.
Amidst all these is Britain’s relationship with her former colonies. By being a member country of the EU, the privileges enjoyed by the UK were extended to members of The Commonwealth as well. For example, a British visa or passport, which is relatively easier to attain for citizens of Commonwealth countries, allowed holders access to the wider European continent. With Brexit, that would no longer be the case. It begs the question then of how the UK’s trade and investment relationship with Africa would fare after Brexit? “We’ve got a UK-Africa trading relationship that’s worth more than £27 billion and the UK is the second-largest investor in Africa, with over £21 billion of investment,” says Emma Wade-Smith, UK trade commissioner for Africa to African Business in March. And “the government is very clear that no trading relationships should be worse off because of Brexit.” And “British companies that are active in Africa genuinely care [and] want to do good business,” she adds, mentioning the many community support schemes by British companies “as a result either of their investment into Africa or their exporting relationship.” Malte Liewerscheidt, Vice President at London-based Teneo Intelligence, a research firm, is not so optimistic about the African trading relationship post-Brexit, however: “I’m not enthusiastic about this at all. Yes, Britain would need to make an effort striking new trade deals, but priority would be given to large trading partners such as the United States or Australia. Besides, the emphasis would be more on opening markets in Africa for Britain, rather than the other way around. [Besides,] most African exports to Britain are primary commodities that are already duty- and quota-free.” The evolving soft Brexit scenario, whereby the UK would retain existing EU trade rules, suggests there would probably not be much change to the current arrangement.
This is the second and final part of my column on 28 August 2018 titled “UK-Africa post-brexit trade scenarios (1).” An edited full version was published by African Business magazine in August 2018.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/stopthekillings-uk-africa-post-brexit-trade-scenarios-2/