via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Why is the Anglosphere hated?

CANZUK deserves debate, not character assassination

The poor quality of British advocacy of CANZUK (free trade and movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain) helps to explain the poor quality of the responses, but doesn’t justify how low the critics have gone. Indeed, most of the responses can be characterised as insults and mischaracterisations.

The first type of response is xenophobic. CANZUK countries are treated as the wrong sort of foreign: Western; majority white; independent without an independence struggle; not in the EU or Asia. This is why Anglosphere medical staff face more hurdles validating their linguistic and medical qualifications for the NHS than EU citizens and even some non-native English-speaking Asians.

China is a threat for advocates of CANZUK, but an alternative for their critics. Britain’s elite demands attention to slavery, imperialism, racism, and aggression in the antique West but not in today’s China. Two investigators of Chinese influence concluded: “So entrenched are China’s networks among British elites that, in our judgment, we have passed the point of no return, and any attempt to extricate the UK from Beijing’s orbit would probably fail.”

A British-French journalist admits a personal U-turn on the need for Western cooperation against China, but demands a CANZUK that is more “progressive” and “less British,” “a Britain-last initiative, with Canada and Australia taking the lead,” and no New Zealand, in order to “make it explicit this is not about any distasteful ideas of ethnic familiarity but geopolitics and values.”

This hypocritical xenophobia is directed against persons as well as countries. For instance, once the British government proposed Tony Abbot (a former Australian prime minister and a life-long supporter of CANZUK) as adviser to the Board of Trade, opposition politicians disqualified him by foreignness. (In fact, he was born in Britain to a British father.” Meanwhile, they peddled Australian opposition slurs: homophobia, based on his commitment to implement majority views on gay marriage; and misogyny, based on a misattributed comment about gender differences in leadership.

Geography is the stonewall that every critic builds in front of CANZUK

Kay Burley of Sky News asked whether Abbott is “the right person to represent us, even if he’s a homophobic misogynist?” Nick Cohen, one of those innumerable writers at The Guardian with no biography other than “columnist,” dismissed Abbott as “a failed Australian politician … eviscerated for his sexist comments” by the leader of Australia’s opposition at the time (Julia Gillard). The Guardian subsequently published a list of “what he has said,” which starts with what Julia Gillard says he said! Even the Conservative Home website ran a column that begins its assassination of Abbott with what Julia Gillard says. Character assassination conveniently avoids Abbott’s qualifications, which include the most rapid series of free trade agreements in Australia’s history (with Japan, South Korea, and China).

British advocates of CANZUK, such as Andrew Roberts, cannot be dismissed as foreign, although they are dismissed, perversely, as xenophobic. For instance, The Guardian published an opinion by Australia’s former Labour prime minister, Kevin Rudd, that CANZUK is “utter bollocks” and “the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism.”

Advocates of CANZUK are dismissed also as stupid and conservative (usually one is treated as proof of the other). Nick Cohen lists Andrew Roberts and Tony Abbott in “a clown parade of other fruit loops in asserting…CANZUK.” Most of his piece is irrelevant character assassination, with lines such as: “He defended Donald Trump…”

CANZUK deserves better than insults and mischaracterisations

A columnist at The Scotsman, Martyn Mclaughlin, characterizes Roberts’ ideas as “Churchillian fantasies,” motivated by “nostalgia for the days of empire” and the “dire” prospects for post-Brexit trade deals. Mclaughlin claims “an absence of wider support,” but ignores both popular support polled in 2018 and a Daily Express finding that 94 percent of readers agree with Roberts. Mclaughlin admits that the Adam Smith Institute and Henry Jackson Foundation have published detailed proposals for CANZUK, but without citing them, pretends that “we are forced to guess at their motivations.” Mclaughlin then reaches the non sequitur: “Such is the Americanisation of British politics.”

Both Nick Cohen and Martyn McLaughlin finish their attacks on CANZUK with long-winded but irrelevant reviews of a recently published book (it does not deserve to be named), alleging that conservatives are in power in America and Britain through abuse of campaign funding and social media.

One might expect better from Unherd (an anti-consensual online magazine), but it entitles its response hyperbolically: “Why CANZUK is an absurd fantasy.” The author, Aris Roussinos, dismisses Matt Kilcoyne’s advocacy as “a vision of Anglo-Saxon civilisation purely reducible to swashbuckling free trade on the high seas previously made only by Napoleon or Oswald Spengler at their most cynical and dismissive, though here represented as a positive trait.” This statement is so hyperbolic it is meaningless.

Roussinos aims most of his long, flamboyant article at Roberts. He correctly identifies a few of Roberts’ fallacies, but is guilty of fallacies of his own. One of the most frequent is ad hominem. For instance, he points out that Roberts supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but this is irrelevant.

Similarly, he characterizes all advocates as “a small coterie of neoliberal and neoconservative ideologues,” but doesn’t provide any definition or evidence for these labels. His strangest ideological claim is that unnamed supporters of CANZUK within the Parliamentary Conservative Party “only show how far Whiggish fantasies have penetrated into British conservatism.”

Characterising your opponents’ arguments as ideologies is reductionist, and reductionism is the fallacy that Roussinos commits most often. Upfront, Roussinos describes CANZUK as “a reheated Edwardian fantasy,” which conveniently reduces about 200 hundred years of ideas to just nine years (1901-1910).

Roussinos cites an obscure blog from 2017 to claim that CANZUK’s free trade would amount to “a miniscule proportion” of the members’ overall trade, but this argument is a Catch-22. Free trade is meant to develop trade; prior trade has been curbed for decades by the EU’s and NAFTA’s protectionism.

Roussinos makes a habit of dismissing potentials by citing the status quo. He also exaggerates the barriers to change, such as the claim that “Canada is enmeshed in the greater North American trading sphere.” In fact, Canada has already reached free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, and the EU.

After falsely claiming that Canada is “enmeshed,” Roussinos writes a non sequitur: “the simple matter of geography trumps the affective bonds between far-flung kith and kin, whatever their emotional appeal.” But Canada’s structural challenges have nothing to do with its geographical challenges. In any case, his statement is internally contradictory: if geography doesn’t prevent far-flung affective bonds, why does it prevent trade?

Geography is the stonewall that every critic builds in front of CANZUK. Mclaughlin claims that advocates “choose to ignore the inconvenient truth that geography would scupper such grandiose delusions.” That’s all he has to say about this supposed “truth,” and he cites nothing to back it up.

Roussinos cites two explicitly anti-Brexit (and anti-conservative) political scientists, who claimed that CANZUK trade is low due to geography, rather than the protectionism of their respective trading blocs (thence they argued that Britain was best off in the EU). However, Britons have enjoyed New Zealand lamb since the nineteenth century. Non-foodstuffs are even easier to trade. Given that Britain’s elite champions imports from China, it cannot pretend that geography prevents imports from Australasia.

Advocates have made the point that improved information technologies and air travel have reduced the importance of distance. This is particularly true for services, which are traded increasingly between developed states.

Roussinos’ criticisms become increasingly bizarre, such as to ask “what good would it do…if the UK exchequer doesn’t benefit from” CANZ trade outside Britain? But free trade has benefits beyond customs and excise, and none of the advocates of CANZUK mentions customs and excise. Roussinos also complains that nobody has raised questions about a single currency or common tax, but neither of these things is necessary to union.

Roussinos imagines barriers ad absurdum, such as “differing foreign policy goals,” but plenty of associations contain antagonistic foreign policies (take Greece and Turkey in NATO). Indeed, international institutions are often justified to manage such antagonisms.

Roussinos imagines absurd outcomes, such as “the only meaningful economic effect of a CANZUK free trade zone, surely, would be to wipe out what remains of British farming”.

He rubbishes any claim of common security interests by ignoring China and noting that CANZUK was not united over the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Even more slyly, he mischaracterises both current pro-China trade and a prospective CANZUK as “neoliberal,” in order to claim that CANZUK would intensify the enrichment of China at the expense of the West.

Finally, Roussinos sets up straw men, such as a mischaracterisation of CANZUK as an English-speaking EU. Thence, he claims that CANZUK must fail for the same reasons that Britain’s membership of the EU failed. But no advocate of CANZUK has modelled it on the EU. Australia’s Senator James Paterson modelled his version on the Australia-New Zealand Economic Relations Agreement and Travel Arrangement. Tony Abbott wants Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). In any case, all advocates have argued that CANZUK would work better because its countries have more in common with each other than with continental Europe.

CANZUK deserves better than insults and mischaracterisations. I recommend that the reader should refresh by going back to the Henry Jackson Society’s detailed proposal from 2019. I recommend that the Conservative Party should confirm a policy in line with the conservative parties of the other nations, i.e., free trade and movement. That’s a no-brainer.

Meantime, the parties should further cooperate to deter China’s aggression, which inevitably entails further institutionalisation of their defence and security cooperation. Hopefully, by then, the quality of British discourse on international relations would have improved.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover