Britain's impressive trade figures show it is anything but isolationist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2012, 12:00am

This week, Britain has welcomed athletes and heads of state from around the world for the Olympic Games.

It is also celebrating the first British win in the Tour de France. And we have just learned that for the first time since the 1970s, the country's exports to the rest of world now outstrip those to the European Union.

So it was amusing to read Professor Guy Sorman ('Decline and fall', July 21) accuse the British of being 'inward looking', 'isolationist' and 'aloof'. He is right to say that Brits are not brilliant at foreign languages but luckily for us, the rest of the world seems to be busily learning English. Sensible nations may worry about preserving their culture but we have not had to pass a law requiring our citizens not to use foreign words (as the French did recently).

Britons have long been a mercantile race. Today, we are the world's fifth-largest trading nation. Our queen heads the Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 54 countries which includes francophone countries such as Rwanda and Cameroon. And of course we not only sacrificed nearly two million lives for the freedom of France in two world wars but we also still enjoy visiting Europe, owning 200,000 homes in France alone.

And it is two-way traffic. London is the sixth-largest French city in the world, with 400,000 Frenchmen and women living and working here. According to Eurostat, Britain welcomed three times more immigrants in 2010 than France (498,000 against 148,500).

Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1974 in the expectation that it would become a dynamic single market, as opposed to the statist, high-cost, regulatory regime it is today. The British public was always sceptical about monetary union: Britons thought it would not work (they were right), believing that global competitiveness was more important than continental 'solidarity'.

Look at our thriving car manufacturing industry. The factories may be owned by American, Japanese, German, Chinese and Indian companies. But these companies have invested ?4 billion (HK$48.3 billion) in Britain in the last 18 months. One Nissan factory in Sunderland produces more cars than all the car manufacturers in the whole of Italy put together.

Meanwhile, France's largest car manufacturer, Peugeot, has just announced losses of Euro819 million (HK$7.75 billion) for the first half of the year.

Britain isolationist? Non, non, non.

Tessa Keswick, deputy chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, London

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