In 2015 the EU embarked on a landmark project to create a frictionless free market for digital services in the mould of the European Economic Area. The scheme, christened the Digital Single Market, is hoped to be complete by 2020 and may contribute up to €415 billion per annum of economic growth, as well as increased competition and a shift in focus for the Single Market to embrace the digital future of the European economy.
As Britain leaves the bloc, however, it is faced with the chance to return to its free-trade roots at a global, rather than a regional, level. The rationale behind the Digital Single Market may prove a key catalyst for this, as well as an opportunity to embrace free trade principles without the heavy taxpayer-funded bureaucracy that dominates the European approach.
Culture is one of the greatest exports of modern-day Britain. Organisations like the British Council and Commonwealth have a global presence and provide worldwide access to British values and heritage. The economic benefits of this appear to be substantial: a recent report estimated that when two countries are Commonwealth members, cultural links like the English language and parliamentary democracy can boost FDI by 10% and trade by twice that.
Many Commonwealth countries are far more dynamic than those in the EU; economic expansion in states like India has led to the dominance of the tech sector. Such rapid modernisation has already been practiced in some former Soviet states like Estonia, jumping from a near-agrarian economy to a technological one, boosting its economic significance. The competitive advantages of Commonwealth states are evident in places like Bangalore, where economic liberalisation has led to a competitive dominance with an English-speaking workforce operating at a fraction of Western costs.
Post-Brexit Britain could benefit from free trade policies suited to the increasing digitalization of the world. If the future is digital, why engage in the lengthy and often burdensome negotiations required to set up a bureaucratic trade bloc? Alternatives like the Commonwealth could lend themselves remarkably well to a unified digital economy without barriers, providing effortless wealth flow around the world and a powerful incentive for developing economies to deregulate their tech sectors. Digital free trade is a concept that seems purpose-built for a global Britain, and provides an opportunity to marry its roots of Victorian laissez-faire economics with a modern-day annihilation of distance.
Peter Wollweber is the winner of the 18-21 category in the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition.