At a diplomatic reception in the capital of a large developing Commonwealth country, a conversation between a senior UK diplomat and 3 UK parliamentarians from different parties took place along the following lines:
Diplomat: They’re very excited about Brexit here. Their eyes light up when you mention it.
Why is that?
They think we’ve neglected them. I’ve told them that we’ll now be able to focus more on them.
How so? Aren’t we cutting staff at our non-European embassies at the moment?
Yes, but the key thing is that we’ll be free to do trade deals!
Don’t we have one now?
Yes, through the EU, but now we’ll be able to offer them a bespoke deal.
What will we be able to offer them, given that, as an LDC [Less Developed Country], they already have duty free and quota free access to our market?
We can offer a bespoke deal when they graduate from LDC status to being a middle income country. Under EU rules, to keep access, they’ll have to follow all kinds of rules and red-tape. We can offer to scrap that.
What kind of rules are you thinking of?
International Labour Organisation [ILO] conventions that the EU insists on.
So Britain would say “don’t worry about child labour, safety, rights at work, we’ll turn a blind eye to such matters?
We’d say it’s up to them to choose which standards they want to apply. We won’t restrict their exports because of their choices.
So you think they’d be happy to lower their standards, cease applying international norms, and thereby lose access to the EU market (which is their main export market) and to other markets, just because Britain says it won’t hold them to international rules?
No, I’m saying that we’re free to make deals tailored to their needs.
That’s the message being pushed by Britain?
I’m a civil servant. I’m just explaining the options available to ministers. It will be their decision. But these options are always well received when I mention them here on private occasions like dinner parties.
How long have you been posted here?
Two and a half weeks.
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