Few countries have had such an outsize impact on the world as the island city-state of Singapore, once dismissed as a ‘little red dot’ by the president of sprawling, chaotic, gargantuan Indonesia. Singaporeans have taken up the phrase with pride, for it encapsulates their sense of achievement despite the tiny size of their country. It also captures their sense of vulnerability, surrounded on all sides by larger, often predatory neighbours. In the five decades since its foundation, Singapore has flourished. It has consequently been admired and mimicked by small, resourceless nations in tough neighbourhoods across the world, from Rwanda to Israel, from Hong Kong to… Britain, even?
It seems a long time ago now, but in the early, more innocent days of Brexit, just after the 2016 referendum, enthusiastic Brexiters often touted Singapore as a model that Britain should seek to emulate: a free-market, low-tax, globally open economy