Those who plan for a city to achieve great empire ought with all industry to endeavour to make it full of inhabitants, for without this abundance of men, one can never succeed in making a city great. 

Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy

clark barrett shengen british business
UK’s long term prospects not well served by philosophy of British exceptionalism

In Discourses on Livy, Niccolo Machiavelli analyzed the writings of the early Roman historian Titus Livy to discover the factors which allowed Rome to create possibly the most successful political entity in history.

Nowhere does Discourses resonate more today in evaluating the potential impact of the current wave of populism characterized by a juxtaposition of anti-Europeanism, isolationism, British exceptionalism and “classical economic libertarianism”, espoused by the United Kingdom Independence Party and considerable numbers of Conservatives. Allowed to proceed unchecked, British business and the British people will suffer from a potential UK withdrawal from the European Union and the common market.

Machiavelli states that greatness may be achieved in two ways, by force and by love: “by keeping the ways open and secure for foreigners who should plan to come to live there” which was adopted by Rome and enhanced its power. He also offers a contrasting ancient example to warn of the dangers of parochialism:

For Lycurgus, founder of the Spartan Republic, thinking that nothing could more easily dissolve its laws than the admixture of new inhabitants, did everything so that foreigners would not come to them; in addition to not receiving them into their citizenship by marriage, and other commerce that makes men come together…so that the City could never increase its inhabitants.

This Machiavelli claims seriously narrowed Sparta’s resource base hindering its ability to deal with unexpected events and was a major factor in its downfall.

Often overlooked in the European debate is the very real existing barrier already imposed between the UK and most other European nations, namely British non-participation in the Schengen zone.

The Schengen area is composed of 26 European countries which have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common frontiers and strengthened external border controls with non-Schengen states. The participants thus function as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy which is intended to encourage the free movement of goods, information, capital and people to facilitate economic activity.

The UK however, has opted out of Schengen for a number of reasons; most prominent is the unsubstantiated claim that remaining outside the zone is necessary to curb immigration. Furthermore, the government purports that remaining outside Schengen does not detract from the attractiveness of the UK as a place to conduct business.

This contention is thoroughly unfounded, nowhere more so than in Chinese media which frequently criticizes the extra visa requirements for Chinese nationals who wish to visit the UK and the Schengen Zone, including the additional monetary and time expense of obtaining a separate UK visa. It must be noted that these requirements also apply to the majority of Asian and African nations, including many of the world’s fastest growing economies such as India, South Africa, Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam and Turkey.

On 13th October 2013, the Beijing Youth Daily reported new measures announced by George Osborne to simplify Chinese tourist visa applications including permission for designated Chinese tourist agencies to submit identical application forms for Schengen and UK visas. However, no timeframe was offered for the measures to be enacted. This followed the British pronouncement on 21st March 2014 of the “honoured guest visa” and the “visa return service” which will allow applicants to retain their passport during processing in order that they may simultaneously apply for other visas.

According to the China International Travel Cooperative visa department, the passport remittance scheme would expedite the application process but would still not redress the added costs and inconvenience incurred for a separate UK visa which may dissuade Chinese nationals from visiting Britain.

On 17th June 2014, the Chinese newspaper ifeng reported that the UK will further simplify the visa application process for Chinese citizens. A plethora of other visa “simplification” measures for Chinese visitors to the UK have been announced, all possessing the basic characteristics of remedial damage limitation arising from UK non-participation in the Schengen Agreement.

These concerns are not limited to China; most Vietnamese tourist agencies omit the UK from European tours which is frequently attributed to the UK visa policy. In terms of Chinese tourist numbers to Europe, the UK receives fewer visitors than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Austria which is estimated to cost the UK £1.2 billion annually in lost Chinese tourist revenue alone.

On 2nd June 2014, the Guardian reported comments from the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, Professor Leszek Borysiewicz, that there was an emerging perception, particularly in India, that Britain was not a welcoming country. This accusation also frequently appears in Chinese media due to the separate visa and fee requirements for Chinese nationals arising from the UK’s Schengen opt-out.

Essentially, the UK non-participation in Schengen is based on the fallacy that it is a special nation which does not reflect its true world and European standing in the balance of world trade and the importance of its home market to international business. Currently the UK accounts for approximately 0.9% and 12.7% of the world and EU population respectively and around 3.4% of world and 14.7% of EU GDP. Furthermore, the UK’s share of the global economy is rapidly falling as part of a general relative Western decline compared with the global South, especially Asia.

Ultimately, the UK’s long term economic prospects are not well served by subscribing to a philosophy of British exceptionalism exemplified by anti-Europeanism and non-participation in Schengen. British prosperity is best served by adopting a cosmopolitan Roman approach and not an isolationist stance which makes the UK less attractive to foreign businessmen, scientists and tourists.

Sparta, with a long history as a classical great power, withdrew economically and socially from the world culminating in stagnation and mediocrity. Britain, also a historical great power, must heed this example and ensure it expends the utmost effort in “keeping ways open and secure for foreigners” to visit and trade in the UK by joining the Schengen zone.

Dr Clark Barrett investigates issues pertaining to national competitiveness in IP generation and security in addition to biomaterials and physics research

UK Schengen Opt-out Bad for British Business
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