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As Brexit begins, Australia mustn’t get caught up in Britain’s post-imperial fantasies

Ben Wellings writes in The Conversation (29.3.17) that, for Australia, Brexit is the diplomatic equivalent of moving into a shared house with a divorcing couple.

‘After nine months of uncertainty the moment has finally arrived: the British government will today officially serve notice that it will withdraw from the European Union.

‘A lot has changed since the referendum result in June 2016 ushered in a year of seismic political surprises. And despite our geographical distance, Britain leaving the EU will affect Australia substantially.

‘… From this side of the world “hard Brexit” can seem like an immense piece of good fortune; Australia is training the UK’s trade negotiators, after all.

‘The British government is desperate to do FTAs to replace its membership of the EU’s single market. Yet, as former chancellor George Osborne pointed out, signing an FTA with New Zealand isn’t going to replace the single market – which comprises 500 million people. Adding Australia won’t make much of a dent either.

‘But that is Britain’s problem, not Australia’s. In this sense, Britain’s difficulties are Australia’s opportunity. The main risk for Australia is that Brexit comes at a moment when – after many years – Australia will soon start FTA negotiations with the EU.’

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