Brexit is the perfect opportunity to ramp up our engagement with the Middle East

Brexit is the perfect opportunity to ramp up our engagement with the Middle East

The thumping majority for Boris Johnson in the General Election has shattered the hopes of the Remainers who for too long blocked, delayed and obstructed the will of the people. The fundamental mismatch that existed between the House of Commons and the people has finally been resolved.

Brexit will now be delivered at the end of January and the UK will once again be a free-trading, independent nation, making its own way in the world. This brings great opportunities but also great challenges. The UK will be responsible for areas over which it has not had control in decades. This includes everything from regulation of data to trade policy.

It is also a great opportunity to build alliances across the world, especially in parts of the world that the EU has neglected.

A strengthened partnership between the UK and Middle East could be particularly exciting. The entire Middle East and North Africa region is undergoing a rapid economic and social transformation on which the UK is in a perfect position to capitalise.

Already Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to roll over trade deals, with many more countries expressing an interest.

Now the UK has the perfect opportunity to engage, it must grasp it with both hands and forge its way ahead, blazing a trail of free trade and prosperity across the world.

For too long, Remainers have peddled the myth that the UK is a natural trading partner of the EU because the values of the EU align with the values of the UK. Not only does this ignore other important factors when it comes to trade deals, but it neglects recent data.

A recent YouGov poll taken from thousands of Arabs across 18 countries showed shared values exist more today than ever before.

Respondents supported economic liberalisation, women’s empowerment, religious minority rights, greater transparency and criticised the politicisation of religion. You could say Middle Eastern citizens increasingly embody the values of the UK itself.

This is the perfect platform upon which the UK can build its post-Brexit relationship. We should not underestimate the importance of economic relations when it comes to building and maintaining these links.

According to the same poll, the economy and unemployment are by far the top concerns amongst those Arab citizens and 61 percent of respondents across the Arab world believed the future would be better if economic matters were put above all other policy issues, be they political, religious or sectarian.

We know that trade is central to ending global poverty and countries which are open to international trade tend to grow faster, innovate, improve productivity and provide higher income and more opportunities to their people.

If the UK can quantify and link the economic benefits to these countries as a result of trade deals with the UK, it would do a vast amount to increase the standing of the UK within the Middle East and its soft power more generally.

These relationships will also be vital if the UK aims to encourage positive reform in the Middle East and North Africa region through its foreign policy.

Despite the criticisms of Remainers, Brexit is an outward-looking and internationalist endeavour which coincides perfectly with the emergence of a new generation of Middle Eastern citizens embodying home-grown forward-looking values. This is especially pertinent when considering the EU has failed to adequately engage in this region over  previous decades. The EU’s failure to do so has led to countries like China filling the vacuum.

China’s investment in the Arab world and the values tied to this investment are very different to the values of the UK. China does not use economic ties to support forward-looking values and principles and could halt or even reverse some of the progress that has already been made. This increases the imperative for the UK to ensure that it engages with the Arab world in a way that boosts both the economies of the Arab world and the economy of the UK.

Increasing the opportunities and economic prosperity of the Arab world will alleviate some of the frustration and anger felt that has built-up as a result of a lack economic growth and unemployment.

However, this engagement should also build on the emergence of these shared values, aligning perfectly with the aim of the UK to increase its commitment to the rest of the world and become a truly internationalist and global player, building bridges throughout the world.