Whoever represents the United Kingdom at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London next year, they will face considerable pressure to begin negotiating favourable trade deals with other member nations. Given our shared heritage, the temptation to prioritise discussions with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand; “the white commonwealth” will be potent, along with India, the world’s third largest economy. However, we must reject this mindset if talks are to be successful.
If Theresa May’s recent visit to India was in any way instructive, it demonstrated that attempts to force through one-sided agreements with developing nations, particularly on the issue of visa restrictions, are unlikely to succeed. Following the conclusion of talks, senior Indian diplomats and government officials voiced their alarm at the British government’s refusal to reform visa restrictions for migrants and students, and stated their belief that such an attitude might scupper any deal.
Earlier this year, 45 Conservative MPs signed a letter encouraging the Government to give Commonwealth citizens “fast-track” visas to the UK after Brexit. “We must be clear about the importance we place on our relationship with the Commonwealth,” the letter stated, “and start the process of strengthening ties for crucial future trade negotiations.” Unfortunately, no mention of visa reform made it into the 2017 Conservative Manifesto, which included an increase in the NHS Surcharge for migrants and international students.