Here then is a chance for the UK to adopt a fairer approach, boosting livelihoods and helping to ensure fewer Africans make the perilous trip to Europe. Finished African products could benefit UK consumers thanks to lower prices. Last year, the UK set out plans to boost Africa-UK trade. At the time, the Government said: “Africa has 8 of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies and there is huge demand on the continent for clean, sustainable and innovative investment. As home to some of the world’s most enterprising technologies and the financial centre of the world in the City of London, the UK is perfectly placed to meet that demand and be the continent’s investment partner of choice.”
Among the Department for International Development’s £370m worth of programmes was £200m to help build trade infrastructure in southern Africa. At that time, African and UK firms announced £6.5bn worth of deals, while the Government announced that the UK had signed trade agreements with 11 African countries, covering 43 per cent of the UK’s total trade with the continent. Unfortunately, Covid has disrupted much of this, while the global south has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and global lockdowns, lacking the financial firepower of the developed world.
This then makes the need for the UK to help African countries develop their industrial capacity all the more vital, connecting the dynamism of a youthful continent with the financial specialism of the City, as well as the technological expertise of the likes of Oxford and Cambridge. The EU has been a poor friend to Africa, all the while talking up its progressive ideals. By contrast, post-Brexit Britain has a unique opportunity to build a new type of partnership to develop African industry, starting with English-speaking Commonwealth countries, utilising diaspora networks, and demonstrating that sound ethics and economics need not be incompatible in the world of international trade.