Were Florida a member of the European Union, it would be the bloc’s fourth-largest economy, between Italy and Spain. Globally, it would come in at around number 16, roughly on a par with Mexico and Indonesia.
It should be big news, then, that Britain has just agreed a trade deal with the Sunshine State. Kemi Badenoch, the trade secretary, signed the accord in Jacksonville on Tuesday with a visibly delighted Ron DeSantis.
The Florida governor, who hopes the deal might lift his sagging campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, talked excitedly about how it would ‘strengthen the economic partnership between our state and the United Kingdom’.
On this side of the Atlantic, the response has been more muted — and for the most obvious and depressing of reasons. A large chunk of our political class cannot bear the thought of any good having come from Brexit.
In the aftermath of the referendum, my think-tank, the Institute for Free Trade, brought together six U.S. and six British research organisations to hammer out what a trade deal between our two countries might look like.
Each country, after all, was the other’s largest investor, a relationship resting on a shared language, legal system and unwritten code of business etiquette.
Trade had not followed investment, it was agreed, because trade had been controlled by Brussels, and a number of manufacturing and agrarian interests on the Continent were determined to keep American competition out. Now Britain was independent, we could finally conclude a deal with our main economic partner.
As the assembled policy wonks went through the potential gains in detail, something became obvious. For a services-based country like Britain, the chief advantage of a U.S. trade deal lies in getting mutual recognition in areas such as banking, investment and legal services.
But in the U.S., these things are largely outside the control of the federal government. If you want a deal that allows, say, British insurers to operate directly across the pond, you need to sign separate accords with individual U.S. states. It was, we concluded, a laborious process, but there was no getting around it.
Five years on, that is precisely what British ministers are doing. This is our seventh state deal and — given the size of Florida’s services sector, its leading role in aeronautics and its position as a major trade and shipping hub — by far the most important.
The tone of sarcastic disparagement that Euro-nostalgics automatically adopt on these occasions (‘yeah, right, so our deal with mighty Florida is going to make up for what we’ve lost’) is a long way off the mark.
Might a deal with the federal government follow?
Donald Trump offered us one, but Theresa May — slow, indecisive and half-hankering after the EU’s customs union — let the opportunity pass.
By the time we made up our minds that we wanted an independent trade policy after all, Joe Biden had been elected on a promise not to sign trade deals with anyone.
That does not mean we are doing nothing. As well as individual state accords, we are pursuing sectoral deals with the U.S. that substantially improve our terms of trade.
This year, for example, unremarked except in the trade press, we signed a pact allowing British and U.S. architects to operate in each other’s countries without needing any extra qualifications.
Such deals should be a cause for uncomplicated celebration. Almost everyone — outside a tiny fringe of radical socialists who hate free exchange on principle — agrees that removing barriers to trade makes everyone better off, especially those on low incomes.
But a strange monomania has possessed many commentators and public figures since June 2016. The people who used to be most in favour of global free trade, considering themselves rational, cosmopolitan and liberal, began to associate it with Brexit.
Because most Eurosceptics were celebrating the commercial opportunities of leaving, some Remainers took the opposite position on principle.
Hence the scare stories about washed chicken (I refuse to call it ‘chlorinated chicken’: there is more chlorine in a bag of salad). People perfectly happy to tuck into KFC when in the U.S. are so anti-Brexit they’ve convinced themselves the same ingredients must be banned here.
Not that they would enter the country anyway. Having grown up on a poultry farm, that sector is one of the few outside politics that I properly understand. At least, I understand it well enough to know we will continue to be by far our own largest supplier, and what little we import will come, as now, from nearby places such as Ireland and the Low Countries.
Earlier this year, I sat through a House of Lords debate on food poverty. Peers on all sides pointed out the rise in food prices occasioned by the Ukraine war was bad news for us all, but particularly for poorer people, a larger proportion of whose household budgets went on groceries.
By a coincidence of timing, the next debate was about the trade deal with Australia. All of a sudden, the very same peers who had been warning against food poverty began to rail against ‘flooding’ the British market with ‘cheap food’.
I don’t believe they were genuinely worried about imports from Australia, a kindred country with high welfare and safety standards. They just couldn’t bring themselves to admit anything positive had come from Brexit.
That surly attitude conditions their response to all our other trade deals, including our entry into the largest commercial nexus on the planet, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, which brings together 12 of the world’s most successful economies, with six applications on the table.
It will also, you may be sure, lead to plenty of snark when we become the only Western country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with India.
I respect, though do not share, the view that Brexit has so far done more harm than good. I have been very critical of our reluctance to take advantage of all the opportunities, a reluctance that owes a great deal to foot-dragging by Europhile civil servants.
What I find harder to understand is the refusal to acknowledge any Brexit benefits at all.
Some are uncontentious. We can now manage our countryside in a way that is environmentally friendly rather than geared at producing surplus food. We can fish what we want from our seas. We presided over one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world.
We can ignore 80 per cent of directives passed since we left. We can, in theory, admit whom we please into our country. We have removed pointless restrictions on gene editing and financial regulations.
To argue that these benefits are outweighed by the costs is perfectly legitimate (though, with the British economy having outperformed the EU’s since the vote, it is not an obviously winning argument).
But that is not what we are seeing. We are seeing a prolonged tantrum in which anything we do as an independent nation is automatically dismissed as wrong — and by people who really should know better. How very unedifying.
Lord Hannan is a former Conservative MEP and serves on the UK Board of Trade