Leading New Zealanders have said the country is willing to forgive Britain for its “betrayal” of the Commonwealth in the 1970s, when Prime Minister Edward ‘Ted’ Heath severed many of the country’s commercial ties to enter the EEC, as the EU was called at the time.
Asha Sundram, from the University of Auckland, told the BBC that it was “a massive shock” when Heath agreed to impose EEC tariffs on its former colonies and war-time allies, which had fought alongside many Britons — including Heath himself — just a few decades ago, against some of the European nations he was then cosying up to.
“It was an emotional shock for New Zealand,” she explained. “Almost 50 per cent of New Zealand exports went to the UK at the time, and so there was huge anxiety about what would happen.
“Essentially New Zealand was like an outpost of Britain [back then]. It was this parent-child relationship, and I think people were just terrified of the apron strings being cut off.
“I think it was probably panic.”
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 4, 2016
But despite the actions of the British political class and immense physical distance, the emotional connection between Britain and New Zealand has remained strong, as Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum, says his country is ready to forgive and forget after Brexit.
“I do think there was a sense of betrayal, particularly among older New Zealanders,” he said.
“I myself was born in Britain, so my family emigrated from Britain to New Zealand. It is hard to think of Britain as a foreign country.
“We were conceived as a farm for Britain. That was our rationale for existence in the world order as it was.”
The country had to reorient its economy significantly after the break, and Britain’s influence has shrunk considerably. Today, it accounts for just 3 per cent of New Zealand’s exports — but Jacobi hopes Brexit could change that.
“While Britain is… not a major trade partner for New Zealand, it still is a very important investment partner,” he said.
“Britain is the third largest investor in New Zealand after the United States and Australia, so the relationship is still very significant. What we have now, maybe, is an opportunity to bring it up to date and place it more in the 21st Century.”