Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

The Complicated Politics of CANZUK in Canada


In the aftermath of the British exit from the EU, the concept of CANZUK, a largely economic alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, all of which have the monarchy, the same common law systems, and parliamentary democracy, among others. However, the question remains, what has stopped these four countries, throughout their respective histories, from forming that alliance earlier?

CANZUK is largely an economic alliance based on free trade between those countries. There has been discussion over more lax immigration rules for subjects of those countries, but we can assume it's largely economic. This proposal is clearly an attractive one which doesn't appear to have any serious issues to it, and the details of this can be worked out in the years to come. Hence, the fact that few efforts have been made to strengthen this alliance is confusing.

The reality is much clearer and is evidenced by the actions taken by respective CANZUK governments over the last few decades. Politics got in the way of what could have been achieved by CANZUK, and even now, little action has been taken to make CANZUK a reality, though the rumblings are louder than ever.

Canada would seem like a good place to start. It is the second-largest country in the world, with a diverse economy and range of skillsets stretching from coast to coast, from Cape Race to Nootka Sound. Canada had also been the country most loyal to the British Empire. The British legal system in Canada was established in the aftermath of the American Revolution, when British loyalists actively petitioned for it. Moreover, Canada prided itself on being the antithesis to their Southern neighbour, staying loyal to the British Empire. So, what changed?

An event which triggered the political motivation for distancing themselves from Britain was the King-Byng affair, when the then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King was dismissed by the British-appointed Governor-General Lord Byng when he asked to dissolve parliament, a request that was refused by Byng, who subsequently appointed his Tory opponent Prime Minister. King would go on to win the next election, having fostered a certain antipathy towards the British Governor-General and the 'undemocratic' appointment of the Tory Prime Minister.

King, the Leader of the Liberal Party campaigned on the issue of non-interference, which would lead him to, as Prime Minister push for the Balfour Declaration, declaring the autonomy of the dominions (which included CANZUK nations). While this declaration itself wasn't the cause of the political unwillingness for further ties, it solidified the 'Anglo-scepticism' within the Canadian Liberal Party, something which would become a theme throughout Canada's modern history.

Past unwillingness to pursue further ties with the UK or other commonwealth nations isn't the cause of CANZUK-scepticism now, but political ignorance is.

The Liberal Party held power in Canada for 70 years of the 20th Century and established a growing trend of Anglo-scepticism from then onwards. The relationship between the Liberal Party and Anglo-scepticism isn't simply cultural, however, it's also political. Within the commonwealth, the general rule of thumb is that socio-democratic parties such as the Liberals are less keen on CANZUK in comparison to their conservative counterparts, who are CANZUK's strongest advocates.

The Anglo-scepticism as well as the changing nature of the world made it easier for Canada to take on a new role in the world and little was discussed over further engagement.

It was not as if Canada was free from its own problems internally, though. The economy at the time served as a lesson in over-centralisation, high taxes, and high deficits, a potent mix, to the extent that the economy under years of centre-left rule was described by the Wall Street Journal as 'an honorary member of the Third World'. Like the centralisation of the European Union, the over-centralisation of the economy, the ignorance towards the will of those in less liberal provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as a regime of high taxes, did not only create political dissatisfaction, but economic decline.

Surely, this would be a good time for Canada to reach out to other countries for preferable arrangements, including the UK, right? Surely, those decades past, particularly the postwar era, showed that an economic partnership was a good idea? There were a few problems, however.

Britain's membership of the EEC, for one, was an obstacle that was clear as day. The EEC forbade Britain from offering such preferable tariff-free arrangements with non-EEC countries. Natural resources were and are among Canada's largest exports, among others, so there was clearly no harm in the UK forming closer links with Canada. That was not to be. To make things worse, a country faced with internal strife over the state of the economy and even years of improved growth did not change this approach.

Canada, once the most prized part of the British Empire, is now unwilling and uninterested in further engaging. Under the years of Liberal government, they took a back seat in the commonwealth, while countries like Australia and New Zealand (farther away from Britain than Canada) have been prominent advocates for closer ties, whatever political party.

So, this brings us the question: Will Canada engage? Will Canadians heed the call of their British compatriots? Not under a Liberal government. Before Covid-19 entered into the fray, the Trudeau Liberal government wasn't interested, and did little to engage with their commonwealth counterparts during their 4 years in majority government and now first year in minority, at least in the way that was done in the past.

Fortunately, there is still hope. In 2018, the Canadian Conservative Party passed a motion committing the party to a CANZUK economic alliance. The Tories, Canada's main opposition, are in the midst of a leadership election and Erin O'Toole, the Shadow Foreign Minister, is a candidate. To make things better, the frontrunner for the race, Peter MacKay, though less enthusiastic, is still committed to advancing CANZUK.

Long story short, if the Conservatives win Canada, the new government will endorse the concept of CANZUK openly, for the first time since the end of Empire. If CANZUK is successful, it would show that it is indeed possible to have an economic alliance, possibly one with free-er movement, which is certainly not a political one. It will show that sovereignty doesn't have to be lost in a close alliance. A Canadian Tory victory is a victory for CANZUK and open support for the UK and its post-Brexit future. 

Font size: +

Contact us

Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
246 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street
London W1B 5TB
United Kingdom
Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
Washington D.C. Representative : John O'Sullivan CBE
Founder Chairman : Lord Harris of High Cross
Head of Media: Jack Soames