Ed Jones is Chair of Conservative Friends of Australia and was Chief of Staff to Jeremy Hunt.
The free trade deal between the UK and Australia follows fine, patient work from Liz Truss and the team, and is a hugely welcome boost to one of our most important international partnerships. It now needs to be a step on the journey to a wider renewal and deepening of the great friendship between our countries.
From scrapping tariffs, to routes for professional services and greater procurement access, this deal is an impressive addition to an already significant economic relationship. The terms will hopefully have overcome the protectionist instincts which found voice on both sides, and which were well reported here in the UK. We cannot be a country or an economy which lacks the confidence to compete fairly in global markets.
Particularly welcome is the new commitment that Brits under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia more freely. We must also hope that the ongoing travel restrictions in place in Australia do not foster a country which is more economically isolated and culturally distanced from the UK. And in the UK, we cannot allow our wider ties with Australia to be neglected in favour of other countries and causes which are deemed by some to be more fashionable or worthy. Conservative Friends of Australia was formed to ensure the uniqueness of this relationship was properly celebrated and promoted.
We are not talking here about ties based on colonial history, cricket fixtures or soap operas. Australia’s importance to the UK as a Five Eyes intelligence partner, a military ally and bulwark to China in the region, and a cornerstone of the Commonwealth, are critical assets to rank alongside any trade deal. They are part of what protects our prosperity, freedom and security from states and movements who do not share our values and do not wish us well.
Whether working to confront security threats or unfair trading practices from China, pushing to drive shamefully overdue trade liberalisation globally, tackling climate change, or reforming the Commonwealth so that it delivers its true potential, the UK-Australia partnership has real unfinished business.
More recently, the Covid-19 experience has exposed the fragility of many supply chains for goods we now recognise to be essential, and the “tilt to Indo-Pacific” referenced in the Integrated Review 2021 will need to deepen cooperation with our strongest local partners. In the near term, this new FTA must pave the way to UK membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP), a free trade area worth £9 trillion comprising eleven Asia Pacific nations, including Australia.
None of this cold reality on prosperity and security challenges should cause us to forget the unique cultural, emotional and political ties which are shared by so many citizens in Australia and the UK. Whether through travel, trade, sport and culture or ancestry, the people of our two countries have common ground and common stories which are unlike those between almost any other countries.
This commonality and affinity is evident in everything from our parliamentary systems of government to the sporting and cultural passions we share with mutual good humour. In many ways, it is in these rivalries that the strength of our friendship and cultural ties revealed. Whether in cricket’s Ashes, Rugby World Cup finals or Lions Tours, the shared values and cultures are part of the fierce competition between our sporting heroes.
These are bonds which few other countries share. Heightened economic, military and technological competition globally has not made them any less meaningful. These bonds are what motivate and enable our two countries to go further, together, on the core security and economic issues. They lie behind the impressive fact that Australians have more trust in the UK than any other country. And today, with centre-right governments in place on both sides, and a landmark trade deal freshly signed, we have the perfect moment to seize on this and ensure a major renewal of this critical friendship right across the board.