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Three imperial policies that still influence life in Britain today

Writer : Hunter Harris, Postdoctoral Analysis Fellow within the Metropolis of London and the Historical past of Slavery, College of Oxford

The revelation that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spouse Akshata Murty claimed non-dom standing within the UK for years has drawn renewed consideration to an imperialist coverage that also holds right this moment. Non-doms might stay within the UK, however are thought-about by the tax authorities to be “non-domiciled” within the nation and subsequently pay no tax within the UK on their revenue earned elsewhere.

The backlash to Murty’s non-dom standing identified that the chancellor’s household benefited from tax loopholes as he raised taxes on the remainder of the nation. Some articles highlighted the irony that Murty, an Indian citizen, was benefiting from guidelines initially put in place to guard the cash British imperialists have been making in India. Non-dom standing is one in every of a number of polices and provisions which have roots stretching again to the British Empire, not simply in India.

On the finish of the 18th century, Britain’s “sugar colonies” have been nonetheless its most worthwhile imperial possessions. The 1799 revenue tax – Nice Britain’s first such tax – exempted non-resident British topics from paying tax on incomes derived from outdoors Nice Britain. Hundreds of British women and men owned agricultural estates (or parts of them) within the colonies, the place enslaved women and men laboured to provide sugar, molasses, rum, indigo, espresso and cotton. The beneficial tax remedy these people secured is testomony to the ability of the colonial lobbies in policymaking on the time.

The act’s non-dom exception would have encompassed absentee plantation homeowners who might declare their time in Britain was solely a sojourn, in addition to all of the 1000’s of British topics overseas within the West Indies and South Asia. It helped maintain plantation homeowners flush with the money they wanted to maintain the wheels of the imperial financial system turning, and supply the products that will pay the customs and excise taxes to maintain the federal government afloat.

Now, a brand new era of worldwide elites are utilizing such relics of empire as non-dom standing for their very own achieve. The distinction is that right this moment, individuals from all around the world can make the most of the UK’s beneficial tax system, whereas prior to now Britons went out into the world to make their fortunes.

Freeports and free commerce

Different imperial insurance policies from the 18th century are additionally having a resurgence. The present plan to create eight freeports in England resurrects a method deployed by the British authorities in 1766. Now that the UK has exited the EU, it has the flexibility to change its commerce insurance policies. The freeports plan will permit for decrease taxes, customs duties and different rules in an outlined geographical space, often known as a particular financial zone, round a port. The federal government hopes the bundle of beneficial insurance policies in a freeport will spur job progress and financial exercise.

Overhead view of Liverpool cityscape and waterfront at dusk.
Liverpool, as soon as the centre of worldwide commerce, shall be a freeport underneath new plans.
Alexey Fedorenko / Shutterstock

Within the 18th century, the federal government aimed to perform related targets by means of a loosening of commerce restrictions. Then, it was the mercantilist system as established by the Navigation Acts that the majority restricted commerce. These legal guidelines confined most British commerce to British ships, imposed duties on international merchandise, and banned British colonies from buying and selling with the opposite European powers and their colonies. Retailers from New England, for instance, couldn’t legally promote meals and lumber to the French and Spanish West Indian colonies as they may to the British ones.

The Free Port Act of 1766 marked a big break on this restrictive commerce system. It opened 4 Jamaican ports and two in Dominica to international merchants, partially repealing the mercantilist insurance policies that had organised British commerce for a century. Commerce between British and Spanish colonies subsequently boomed. Exports of African captives and British textiles from Jamaican ports to Spanish American ones made up a lot of this enlarged commerce.

Any port in a storm

In the meantime, some longstanding insurance policies have been consigned to historical past, unlikely to ever return, but their results proceed to be felt. The 1703 Methuen treaty between England and Portugal is one instance. As a part of a diplomatic alliance solid in the course of the warfare of Spanish succession, Portuguese wines loved beneficial customs remedy in England. The treaty helped solidify the well-known wool for wine commerce, which the economist David Ricardo used as an example the ability of aggressive benefit.

Two glasses of red wine on a table with a sunny landscape in the background. Someone is pouring from the bottle into one of the glasses.
The British style for port has its roots in imperial commerce coverage.
barmalini / Shutterstock

The British style for port and Madeira wines owed a lot to the value benefit Portuguese producers held over their rivals. Moreover, retailers in Oporto and Madeira – lots of them British – adjusted their merchandise to fulfill their clients’ style, exhibiting excessive ranges of entrepreneurship and innovation. The Methuen treaty could also be lengthy gone, and dry wines extra in style than fortified ones, however a glass of port at Christmas continues to be a British custom.

International Britain

Once we take a look at Britain’s historical past, the imprints of empire are unmistakable. Prior to now, British women and men might earn a living world wide behind protectionist partitions. In the present day, the UK courts international alternatives by means of liberal regulatory and tax insurance policies.

Following Brexit, the UK is now in search of to redefine its worldwide standing with its “world Britain” slogan. We might do properly to recollect how British prosperity has lengthy been intertwined with the remainder of the world – and what “world Britain” has meant for many who have been topic to British imperialism.


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