Since the June 2016 UK referendum on leaving the European Union, debate over the future of British foreign policy has been intense. However, with nearly three years passed since that poll, and the UK having been granted an extension to the originally scheduled leave date of 29 March, Brexit’s timeline and impact remain deeply uncertain.
A panel discussion on 3 April in Singapore, organised by the British Chamber of Commerce in Singapore with OMFIF participation, was convened to discuss the probable repercussions of the delay and the implications of Brexit for Singaporean and Asian stakeholders, from the decisions of private businesses attempting to mitigate risk, to the effect on existing and future trading relationships.
Speakers at the panel were positive about the future of the Singapore-UK partnership. Though the pound has been hit by political uncertainty since the referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May’s most recent announcements about meeting with the political opposition in Westminster to break the deadlock over Brexit lifted the pound and saw the FTSE 100 hit a six-month high.
There are indicators, too, that the global economic slowdown could be starting to ease in the light of stronger Chinese and US manufacturing figures. Singapore is also prepared to work with Britain to apply the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement in a Britain-Singapore context that could form the basis of a future bilateral accord.
Speaking at the conference, Scott Wightman, British High Commissioner to Singapore, noted the breadth and depth of the current relationship. The new UK-Singapore ‘Partnership for the Future’ provided a platform to strengthen collaboration in areas such as artificial intelligence, education and research where the UK had a strong global comparative advantage and where the two sides would continue to co-operate after Brexit.
Regardless of what form Brexit ultimately takes, the UK will remain an important economic partner for Singapore. Though there remain many obstacles on the path ahead, the political quagmire in Westminster is incidental to the gradual yet certain move eastwards of the global economy. The UK must begin to look beyond its messy exit from the EU and focus on opportunities for UK companies looking to access Asia’s emerging and fastest-growing markets.
Adam Cotter is Director and Head of Asia.