Traditionally one of the most outward-looking economies, a power that built the greatest empire the world has ever seen on the back of its international trade and commerce, Britain has more to lose than most from a revival in protectionism and a disintegration of the world economy.
That merchant history has left the UK with a still sizeable dependency on exports for our national economic survival. About £17 in every £100 the nation produces derives from goods and services sold abroad – that's some way behind the exceptional German figure of 30 per cent, but is surprisingly some way ahead of Japan (10 per cent), say, and the relatively insular and huge US economy (7 per cent). The past three decades of liberalisation have greatly accelerated the process of cross-border integration – so-called "globalisation".
The City of London is an obvious example of foreign labour and capital flowing freely and, until recently, was capable of generating huge wealth. But other financial and business services, from insurance to consultancy, also depend on those free international flows.
Virtually the whole of our electricity supply and water utilities are owned by German, French and other foreign entities, many of our high street banks are owned by the Spanish Santander group and our leading car makers are Japanese, German, Indian and American – and they export 80 per cent of their output. Even the Post Office will be half-owned by the Dutch. There's also Heathrow, an international hub. Tourism and the creative industries, key to our prosperity, are both global trades. Look too at the Polish and Lithuanian builders and potato pickers, Nigerian taxi drivers and South African nurses all of whom have provided a net benefit to the British economy. Their contribution to lowering the cost of living and maintaining the NHS is scarcely noticed, let alone praised. Not to mention the emergence of chicken tikka masala as our national dish.
As the calls for "British Jobs for British Workers" grow more strident, we should calmly reflect on how well we have done out of our open, cosmopolitan, globalised ways. Or do we want to return to the days when you couldn't take more than £40 out of the country?Reuse content