Seizing the opportunity
Speaking in London in April this year, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said:
'…the reality is all of that; you could not find two countries more close in every respect; family, culture, history and values. You know Australia was the sole country outside of NATO and the EU that expelled Russian diplomats in response to the shocking nerve agent attack in Salisbury, here on British soil. There is nowhere in the world where Australians feel more at home than the United Kingdom. We have extraordinary shared values, shared history, shared family. In a post Brexit environment we see even greater opportunities for trade and investment between the United Kingdom and Australia. I can assure you that we will do everything we can to enable the UK to enter into the most favourable open - to quote President Trump - fair and reciprocal, trade deal between Australia and the UK.'
Mr Turnbull's warm words are of course welcome, but if I may be so bold, a little uninspired. Brexit offers more opportunities than a simple bilateral UK-AUZ trade deal.
The grand idea of a continent-spanning 'CANZUK' alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK has been discussed by politicians and journalists for many years.
As historian and journalist Andrew Roberts wrote in 2016:
'Much more unites than divides the CANZUK countries, and were it to become a Union it immediately become one of the global great powers alongside America, the EU and China. It would be easily the largest country on the planet, have a combined population of 129 million, the third biggest economy and the third biggest defence budget.'
Brexit (the UK's decision to leave the European Union) gives the UK the opportunity to finally make this vision a reality. In this article I will discuss how CANZUK would be a mutually beneficial grouping that would help its members address the challenges of the 21st century and help deliver prosperity, opportunity and safety for its 132 million citizens.
Cousins across the seas
As journalist Andrew Lillico wrote in 2017:
'There are 1.3 million UK ex-pats in Australia, 670,000 in Canada and 310,000 in New Zealand. That is 2.3 million UK ex-pats elsewhere in CANZUK (about 45 per cent of all UK ex-pats), nearly twice as many as in the EU27 and three times as many as in the US — even though the population of the US is more than five times that of CANZ.Of 600,000 New Zealanders living abroad, around 90 per cent live elsewhere in CANZUK. For Australia, the figure is about 22 per cent, with the UK as the single largest destination…for geopolitical partnerships to last, a common sense of "us" is vital. CANZUK has that. That is the most basic reason why it will work.'
How realistic would such an alliance be? I would argue that it would be both achievable, and possible to establish within a short space of time.
The CANZUK countries already work together closely. All participate in the "5-Eyes" intelligence partnership.The 'FVEY' countries are Britain, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. All co-operate on crime prevention via Interpol.
All are part of the Commonwealth of Nations and recognise the same Monarch, Sovereign Queen Elizabeth II. We share similar parliamentary systems and laws. In addition, Canada and the UK work together as founding members of NATO.
Given the pre-existing close relationships between the CANZUK countries, their advanced co-operation in many fields and long-established bonds of friendship, I believe that all the necessary elements for a new CANZUK alliance are in place.We need only to grasp the opportunity.
What form would this take?
There are many forms that a CANZUK agreement could take and obviously it would be subject to negotiation, but this is how I envision such an alliance. First, the CANZUK union should be based on the principles of Intergovernmentalism, not Supranationalism. Each member would have a veto in all areas, and decisions would be taken after intense debate and unanimity. Its charter could place specific limits on its powers and the number of civil servants it could employ; to prevent it becoming a bloated bureaucracy.
The CANZUK alliance could contain the following elements:
- A Deep and Comprehensive free trade agreement between the four states including trade in both goods and services, resulting in the establishment of a tariff-free free trade area between the CANZUK states and a commitment to work towards removing non-tariff barriers to trade.
- The creation of a Joint Customs Cooperation Committee (JCCC) and a Joint Committee on Trade (JCT).
- A CANZUK parliamentary assembly made up of 100 parliamentarians (25 from each member country) elected by the public of each state. This would be overseen by a 'college' of four appointed officials, one from each CANZUK state. The assembly would formally be based in London but each state would take turns hosting the meetings of the assembly. To ensure that all partners felt equally important, the college could be based in one state, the assembly in another, the administration could be dealt with in another etc.The Parliamentary assembly would regularly invite ministers from each country to answer topical questions from assembly members.
- A weekly video conference could be held between all the Foreign Ministers of each state to discuss issues to be addressed in the week ahead.
- A Visa Liberalisation programme which would make it easier for CANZUK citizens to live, work and study in other member countries.
- A Memorandum of understanding between the police forces of the CANZUK countries to deepen co-operation, especially in the areas of data-sharing and counter-terrorism.
- A NATO-style collective defence agreement.
- Increased collaboration in international forums such as the WTO and UN bodies to achieve common aims.
- A life-changing government-funded student exchange programme.
- Enhanced Reciprocal Healthcare Agreements.
- Greater co-operation to fight pollution and climate change.
- A multi-million pound science programme which would fund cutting-edge research into such subjects as Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous vehicles, 3D printing and new materials.
What can the UK bring to the CANZUK table?
Quite a lot:
- The UK is one of only five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
- The UK is ranked as the world's top in terms of 'soft power'.
- The UK represents 66 million potential customers for businesses in the other CANZUK states.
- The UK has a shared history, language and culture with the other CANZUK countries.
Several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada, negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2015. This deal was dealt a serious setback however, when US President Trump pulled out of the proposed agreement in 2017 by executive order. Since then, the remaining states have relaunched the initiative under the new name Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP); but this has yet to be ratified.
Since CANZUK would involve only four countries, it is possible that a CANZUK deal could be signed, sealed and ratified before all 11 TPP countries ratify CPTPP – if it ever is.
The UK made the right decision when it voted to leave the European Union. But make no mistake, the UK is now entering a radically different world from that which existed in the 1970s before we joined the EEC.
Alongside the perennial threats of pollution, crime and hostile nation states, the new threats of cybercrime and cyberterrorism, Isis/Daesh and other radical groups have emerged.
Given the rise of China as an economic powerhouse, the unpredictability and protectionism of the current US administration, coupled with the even greater unpredictability and danger posed by Putin's Russia, it would not be sensible for the UK to 'go it alone' in the world.
Brexit makes a CANZUK alliance possible, and President Trump's protectionism and antipathy towards his NAFTA partners makes it more likely that Canada would seek to join a CANZUK alliance.
CANZUK represents a massive opportunity for its potential members, and we must seize the opportunity now, before the opportunity is lost. Either we shape the 21st century together or we will be side-lined by China and the big trade blocs.Let's unite and thrive together.