Former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke skulls a cold beer during day two of the Fifth Test match in the 2017/18 Ashes Series (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Leave the EU to be the EU

CANZUK doesn’t need to copy anyone or force anything

Artillery Row

Medium-sized countries can benefit from entering into geopolitical partnerships with similar-scale countries that have similar values, goals and needs. Such geopolitical partnerships typically have two elements: the internal-facing (how they deal with each other) and the external-facing (how they together deal with the rest of the world). 

For some partnerships the main priority is the internal-facing one. They focus upon increasing their internal trade, perhaps in harmonising their laws, in ensuring that disputes between them are resolved amicably, and in encouraging each other to develop the core political ideals of the club (eg communism; or liberal democracy; or some religion – depending on when and where the partnership is). The EU is an example of a partnership like this. This form is particularly important when the geopolitical partnership has the creation of a new state or quasi-state as one of its key raisons d’être. 

In the UK, as EU members we became used to this form of geopolitical partnership over many decades. It is perhaps natural, therefore, that having left the EU, when people consider other new geopolitical partnerships, they assume that that must mean something with the same sort of objectives and priorities as the EU. 

Hence when advocates of CANZUK say there should be a new geopolitical partnership between Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand, some people ask questions like “But will these countries ever be each others’ main trading partners?” or “Do the citizens of these countries want a Single Currency or a common President?” – as if the aim were to create a new EU. 

But these are the wrong questions. A country’s key geopolitical allies do not have to be those countries with which it trades the most. If that were so, then China’s main geopolitical ally would be the United States (its largest trading partner). And an alliance does not have to include a Single Currency or a common President in order to be a geopolitical partnership. 

A CANZUK partnership would lead to increased trade, investment, travel and cultural engagement

Partly that is because partnerships tend to lead to a deepening of relationships. When the UK joined the EEC in the early 1970s the EEC6 constituted only around 16 per cent of UK trade; today it’s around twice that. A CANZUK partnership would lead to increased trade, investment, travel and cultural engagement between the members. Partly it is because partnerships that work often add further members later. Over many decades, the EEC6 became the EU28. CANZUK might in some decades’ time add other countries (eg other of the Crown Realms, once their GDP per capita rises high enough and their societies change in other important ways – such as their murder rates coming closer to CANZUK norms). 

But more fundamentally it is because the core goal of CANZUK would not be internal convergence. The CANZUK countries begin much more similar to each other than they are to other countries. They begin with a common head of state, similar constitutional arrangements, similar (and cross-referring) legal systems; similar business practices; very similar cultures; and with strong literal familial connections. Pre-existing common ways of doing things and common values are in themselves a strong basis for geopolitical partnership – a perfectly valid alternative basis to economic or financial linkages. CANZUK is already a single civilisation. Relatively little additional internal convergence would be required. The key goals of CANZUK concern how these countries – how the members of this civilisation – engage externally, to protect and promote that common civilisation.

By working together, we could avoid domination by our regional hegemons

So, of course, reflecting their common civilisation, CANZUK countries would work together on the internal aspect. We would trade; we would facilitate internal migration; we would jointly sponsor cultural events. But the key elements would be how we would collaborate in reaching beyond ourselves – working together to face threats such as China (as we have already done over Hong Kong); perhaps offering common moral censure as critical friends to the United States; caucusing in international regulatory forums over issues such as finance, artificial intelligence or intellectual property; collaborating to form similar positions over environmental issues; backing each other up in disagreements with third parties such as the North-West Passage Dispute; launching secure positioning systems into orbit or exploring space. 

By working together, we could achieve more than we could alone, and avoid being dominated by our regional hegemons – Canada the United States; the UK the EU; and Australia China. We could advance our civilisation; promote our values; steer the world our way; have our voice heard and respected. 

Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand like each other and are more similar to each other than they are in respect of any other countries in the world. That affinity, that philadelphia, that natural mesh could allow us to present a common face to the rest of the world – without needing forced internal harmonisation – to give our civilisation its proper place and influence. That should be a prospect to excite and enliven. Think of what we could be! Shall we try? 

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