After 19 years UKIP membership, I’m delighted to stand in front of you today for my maiden conference speech.
I want to say thank you to all of the activists who have campaigned so hard, over years and have got us to the vital point of an in/out referendum. I also want to pay tribute to some of my UKIP colleagues who, regrettably are no longer with us, people such as Graham Booth, Don Hulston, Malcolm Wood, Brian Kemp and Reg Simmerson, to name just a few, who I know, would relish this, once in a generation, opportunity that we now have to get our country back. We’ve waited since 1975 for this referendum, and accordingly, we must make every effort, together to win the day.
Already the ‘STAY’ campaign have given their misguided opinion that the UK is somehow unable to, not only survive, but also prosper independently, free from the shackles placed upon us by our European Union membership.
Such an opinion completely, and deliberately neglects the many strong advantages that we have on the wider global stage, be it as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, or alongside our position as a leading member of the many other important international organisations.
They ignore the fact that the world is a far larger place than the 28 member states that currently make up the EU, and their short sightedness, would prevent us from fulfilling our true potential as a genuine global trading nation.
Even though I’m just 5’ 5”, I’m not a ‘Little Englander”, and I’m certainly not a “Little European”.
What I am though, is someone who is proud to declare their admiration and love for an organisation that accounts for 15% of the world’s trade and 25% of the world’s population.
An organisation which shares a common history, legal system & business practice, speaking the truly international language of English.
Furthermore, that organisation, by its geography is far more diverse than the European Union can ever dream to be, and has a truly global reach across every continent on our planet.
That organisation is, of course, the Commonwealth, and I believe that it is our true destiny.
Over the last 70 years, in many people’s lifetime, The UK has ceded control of the largest Empire in the history of mankind, granting independence to many countries that afterwards came together as a Commonwealth of Nations. So, now, it seems somewhat ironic that it is us who seek to regain our own independence, from the EU.
Today’s UK is a far different country from that when we joined the EEC, back in 1973. The assimilation of British people, whose family heritage hails from many different Commonwealth nations, places us at a huge advantage by being able to build on the family networks and business links that already exist, giving us an incredible head start as we, once again, reach out into the exciting, wider world.
Such a direction would take us far further than our opponents accusation of sentimentality. Indeed, after 42 years EU membership, it’s my contention that it is the “STAY” camp who are being sentimental, and surrounding themselves in the false promises of the European Union.
But with our Commonwealth partners, we share deep and important historical, political and cultural ties. We must be both humbled and equally proud of the unquestionable bravery of the Australian and New Zealanders at Gallipoli, the Indians at Neuve Chapelle, the Canadians at Vimy Ridge, and the South Africans at Delville Wood, who not only helped us defeat tyranny twice in the last century, but also, unquestionably, helped build the UK into a great nation.
This shared history of grief and triumph gives as special, global kinship that is second to none, and should never have been forsaken.
To this day Commonwealth citizens living in the UK not only enjoy the vote, but many also serve in our armed and civil forces. And not just from the larger nations - Fiji, for one, has a proud record of producing some of our finest service personnel in recent years.
In 2004, Johnson Beharry, who hails from the small Caribbean island of Grenada - “The spice island”, was awarded the UK’s first Victoria Cross in 22 years, for valour, whilst serving with the British Army in Iraq.
The issues surrounding the effect that Britain’s EU membership has had on some Commonwealth countries are well known, not least the impact on Caribbean producers of sugar and bananas. And, we will shortly hear, in a similar vain, from our next speaker, about the negative impact that the EU has had in West Africa, and Ghana in particular.
Accordingly, it is not just the UK that suffers, as before we sign any new trade agreement with any country, we must first get EU permission, since they now hold our negotiating seat at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The future prosperity of the United Kingdom is dependent on making every available use of every available network to penetrate deep into the giant and rising markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The best network we have to hand to assist with this aim is the ready-made Commonwealth network – Re-invigorated in an age of almost total connectivity and interactivity, with a common working language, and embracing a dozen or more of the world’s fastest growing economies and providing a gateway to still more of the great emerging markets of the 21st century.
This is the opposite of what we were told 40 years ago. Then the received wisdom was that Britain’s global interests were finished, the Commonwealth could be ignored and our destiny lay in wholehearted participation in the great European single or common market.
That may have been correct then, but today we are on the other side of the internet revolution and an entirely new pattern of power and markets has been created. The wheel of economic fortune has turned full circle, and it is now outside the EU where all the growth for the next two decades is likely to occur, and where much of the wealth is going to be generated to finance the capital projects the world needs, including those in the debt-ridden West.
On best estimates the EU share of global GDP is set to shrink while other areas expand. The Euro-zone share could be as little as 11.9 per cent according to the IMF, whilst Commonwealth countries are projected to grow over the next five years by 7.2 per cent.
Of course, the modern Commonwealth has no specific trade track. That would have mattered twenty years ago, but today not only are trade barriers far lower or negligible, but trade flows are taking a completely different shape, with complex supply chains snaking through economies on several continents.
Determinants of trade flows are now set as much by foreign direct investment decisions, themselves driven by local conditions, culture, political risk, familiarity and trust.
Services and knowledge products, barely featuring in trade calculations forty years ago, or earlier when the original EEC was founded, now have a central position in international exchange.
Trade now follows, not the flag, but the relationship built up, layer upon layer, by soft power deployment and diplomacy. Countries don’t trade with countries. It’s companies that trade with companies.
It should be no surprise that some of the biggest leaps in UK exports have been to Commonwealth countries: 33 per cent to India, 31 per cent to South Africa, 30 per cent to Australia and 18 per cent to Canada.
For the UK, the dice truly could have landed the right way up. The genius of the Commonwealth is that it is people driven, civic society driven, common interest driven and, increasingly, market and business driven. That is why the age of hyper-connectivity has acted like a blood transfusion to a network covering almost a third of humankind.
The transformed international scene is now filling up with new networks and alliances, some involving the old West and some excluding it all together. The Commonwealth is only one of these new, or renewed, systems. But it is a mighty one and for a heavily interdependent Britain it is a huge potential asset in every respect, both from the trade and business point of view and also from the point of view of our contribution to peace, stability and development.
An organisation that promotes shared values, culture, history and interests can be the catalyst for wealth creation, thus transforming the third world, on the road out of poverty and dependability on aid, and without the need for unwieldy political superstructures.
In 2013, Commonwealth members’ combined total exports of goods and services to all countries stood at $3.4 trillion. This is estimated to be 14.8% of world exports.
Both the UK and the Commonwealth can benefit from British independence from the EU. The natural flexibility afforded to Commonwealth members is a refreshing contrast to the rigid and over regulated burden that is a consequence of British membership of the EU. Tacitus must have foreseen the EU all those years ago when he said “the more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws”.
This natural flexibility amongst friends, both old and new, including recent members such as Mozambique and Rwanda, who despite having no historical ties to any Commonwealth nations, underline how this modern and increasingly evolving organisation isn’t some perverse throwback in history.
Other states, such as The Gambia, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe have chosen to leave. However, they know the door is always open, should they ever wish to return.
The flexibility of using its huge geographical spread to an unprecedented advantage means that Commonwealth members from different regions are best placed to understand the very different global challenges and opportunities at a time that recent technological innovations have made the world a far smaller place than it was when the EU was formed.
The time has come to decide on the UK’s fate. It is only right and natural that we look beyond the EU and take a global approach, alongside our Commonwealth family.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is our oyster, but inside the EU, our future is a clam, and we must take very opportunity to remind the electorate that the Commonwealth, who we all identify with so naturally, is the valuable pearl inside that oyster.