British Empire politics are still at play in Britain

Oxford University researcher Hunter Harris on how three imperial policies influence life today

Revealing that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty claimed non-dom status in Britain has for years drawn renewed attention to imperialist policies that continue to this day. Non-Doms can live in the UK but are considered non-domiciled in the country by the tax authorities and therefore pay no UK tax on their income earned elsewhere.

Backlash over Murty’s non-dom status indicated that the chancellor’s family benefited from tax loopholes as he raised taxes for the rest of the country. Something article highlighted the irony that Murty, an Indian national, was taking advantage of rules originally put in place to protect the money British imperialists were making in India. Non-Dom status is one of several policies and regulations that have roots stretching back to the British Empire, not just India.

As late as the late 18th century, the “sugar colonies” were Britain’s most lucrative imperial holdings. The Income Tax of 1799 – Britain’s first such tax – exempted non-resident British subjects from paying tax on income earned outside Britain. Thousands of British men and women owned farms (or parts thereof) in the colonies, where enslaved men and women worked to produce sugar, molasses, rum, indigo, coffee and cotton. The favorable tax treatment of these individuals testifies to the power of colonial lobbies in policy making at the time.

The plot Non-Dom Exception would have included absent plantation owners who could claim their time in Britain was merely sojourn, as well as all the thousands of British subjects abroad in the West Indies and South Asia. It helped ensure that plantation owners had the money to keep the wheels of the imperial economy turning and to provide the goods to pay the duties and excise duties to keep the government afloat.

Now a new generation of international elites are using such relics of empire as non-dom status for their own benefit. The difference is that today people from all over the world can take advantage of the UK’s favorable tax system, whereas in the past the Brits went abroad to make their fortunes.

Freeports and Free Trade

Other eighteenth-century imperial policies are also experiencing a revival. The current plan to create eight Free ports in England revives a British government strategy dating back to 1766. Now that the UK has left the EU, it has an opportunity to change its trade policy. The free port plan allows for lower taxes, tariffs, and other regulations in a defined geographic area, called a special economic zone, around a port. The government hopes the bundle of favorable measures in a free port will boost job growth and economic activity.

In the 18th century, the government wanted to achieve similar goals by easing trade restrictions. Then it was her mercantilist System as established by the navigation laws the most restricted trade. These laws restricted most British trade to British ships, imposed tariffs on foreign products, and prohibited British colonies from trading with the other European powers and their colonies. New England merchants, for example, could not legally sell food and timber to the French and Spanish West Indies colonies as they could to the British.

The Free Port Act of 1766 marked a significant break in this restrictive trading system. It opened four Jamaican ports and two in Dominica to foreign traders, partially reversing the mercantilist policies that had organized British trade for a century. Trade between British and Spanish colonies subsequently boomed. exports of African captives and British textiles from Jamaican ports to Spanish American ports made up much of this expanded trade.

Any port in a storm

Meanwhile, some longstanding policies have been entrusted to history that will likely never return, but their impact is still being felt. The Methuen Treaty of 1703 between England and Portugal is an example. As part of a diplomatic alliance forged during the War of the Spanish Succession, Portuguese wines enjoyed preferential customs treatment in England. The treaty helped solidify the famous wool for the wine trade, which the economist noted David Ricardo used to illustrate the power of comparative advantage.

The British taste for harbor and Madeira Wines owed much to Portuguese producers’ price advantage over their competitors. In addition, traders in Porto and Madeira – many of them British – adapted their products to their customers’ tastes and displayed a high level of entrepreneurship and innovation. While the Methuen Treaty is long gone and dry wines are more popular than fortified, a glass of port at Christmas is still a British tradition.

Global Britain

If we look at the history of Great Britain, the traces of empire are unmistakable. British men and women used to be able to make money behind protectionist walls around the world. Today, the UK courts foreign opportunities through liberal regulatory and tax policies.

After Brexit, Great Britain is now trying to redefine its international reputation with the slogan “global Britain”. We would do well to remember how Britain’s prosperity has long been intertwined with the rest of the world – and what ‘global Britain’ meant to those who depended on it British imperialism.

Hunter HarrisPostdoc in the City of London and the History of Slavery, University of Oxford.

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article. British Empire politics are still at play in Britain

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