Amidst the ongoing Brexit chaos, the UK government has thrown yet another spanner in the works.
In what some would describe as a bitter irony, Britain’s international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has suggested that post-Brexit negotiations could see free movement between the UK and Australia forming part of a trade agreement.
This would likely see Australians granted the same privileges that EU nationals are currently afforded; the option to live and work in Britain without being subject to the standard points-based visa system. In return, the same would apply to Brits looking to reside in Australia.
Defeating the Object or A Welcome Change?
Such proposals may strike a nerve with Brexiteers whose decision to vote ‘leave’ in the EU referendum of 2016 was partially formed on the basis of reduced immigration. However, it may also be the case that this is embraced by the British public in a cruel example of preferential bias.
The predilection for one ‘type’ of migrant over another is, disappointingly, not a new phenomenon in the UK. In 2018, a Migration Observatory briefing revealed that, of those surveyed, just 10% believed that ‘no Australians should be allowed to live in the UK’ as opposed to a substantial 37% who believed that Nigerians should not be allowed. Statistics such as these are devastatingly telling in that they capture a prevailing prejudice against migrants; one in which racism and xenophobia play an undeniable role.
What Could Freedom of Movement Mean?
Despite the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, recently reinforcing the unique and exclusive nature of Australia’s visa-free agreement with New Zealand, it may be the case that an exception is made for the UK.
In the event that a trade deal is in fact agreed and, as a result, freedom of movement between the two countries ensues – the UK’s agricultural sector may be one industry to reap the benefits. Two key implications of Brexit on the UK’s agricultural sector are: 1) agricultural trade between EU nations and the UK will no longer be free of tariffs or restrictions and 2) the large subsidy that UK farmers currently receive from the EU each year (providing up to 50% of their annual income) will cease.
Brexit has thus become a looming concern for UK agriculture, however a trade deal with Australia may diminish such fears. A Financial Times article revealed that Simon Birmingham, Canberra’s trade minister, suggested Australia could aid the UK in making a deal which would allow the free flow of agricultural products into the UK – along with investment and trade in both directions.
Whilst the trade deal may be a welcomed change, proposals of free movement between the UK and Australia could incite a bitter resentment in the EU and its nationals – and understandably so.
It is worth considering why the British public may demonstrate more acceptance towards Australian immigration: does preference on the basis of ‘cultural likeness’ merely masquerade a more sinister truth? The rise in xenophobic hate crimes in the UK since the EU referendum seems to suggest so.
It is likely to be quite some time before an agreement of this sort is reached since, legally, formal trade negotiations cannot begin until Britain has left the bloc. However, both Liz Truss and Scott Morrison seem keen on pressing ahead with a trade deal, with Truss declaring that a deal should be secured within months rather than years.