Thursday , June 20 2024

A Canadian Viewpoint on #Brexit

Being in Canada during the rather exciting past year led to a number of conversations with people which left a sense of deja vu. This is not new; in 2014, whenever Canadians found I was born in Scotland two things invariably crept into our conversation: 1. Their Scottish Grandmother, who came from a tiny little village somewhere in Scotland and had I ever been there? and 2. What do I think of the SNP and the Independence Referendum?

But last year it was different. Perhaps it is because I sound more English than Scots, but the one thing that nearly everybody wanted to know about was the EU Referendum. And as the Brexiteers’ ‘People’s Army’  (as it was known by some) crept closer to the crucial 50.1% mark, the question changed. No longer was it “What is the referendum about?” or even “Why are you having a referendum”, but rather “Why are so many Britons voting for Brexit?”

This I rather liked. When one is as politically-minded as I am, the more political discussions one has per day the better. The referendum was a very interesting topic and so I enjoyed explaining the Leave position. Alas, it was harder to explain to the Canadians than for the Americans. For those south of the border, I found quite often all one had to say was something quite similar to a proof in Euclidean Geometry: “The EU Parliament has no legislative powers; the EU supersedes all national laws; the EU Taxes; therefore many are voting to leave because Britons generally dislike Taxation Without Representation.”

But for Canadians it was often harder to understand the Brexit position. Many saw the EU through the lens of their own very successful Federation of Anglophone and Francophone Provinces. To them Brexit was a confusing act by some short-sighted Britons who harkened back to the days of the empire. But then something changed. Walloonia, one of the two Belgian Regions, blocked the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA was a major trade agreement between the EU and Canada aimed at eliminating 98% of all tariffs and while it had been in negotiations since 2009, the process had begun in 2004. Strangely enough, this act of self-determination by Wallonia turned Canadian public feeling. Perhaps the EU was, after all, as bureaucratic and overbearing as many Britons complained. And then the vote became to be viewed as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience to the world at large.

What I found interesting was that people began to notice that Brexit offered the chance for something that had already made a blip on the national radar – Commonwealth Free Movement.  This is the idea that there should be free movement of people between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK – the ‘CANZUK’ nations, and is being pushed by the Commonwealth Free Movement Organisation. In 2015, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had an article on it, which included a small e-poll. More noteworthy was when the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS)  & YouGov conducted a poll asking if Canadians supported free movement between Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand: The results were quite striking; 75% of Canadians supported it, with only 15% opposing the idea.

For many I spoke to, Free Movement meant that a deal between a Post-Brexit Britain now no longer was merely bailing out an elderly Britain, but a potentially exciting two-sided deal that could offer great benefits and opportunities to Canadians. However, a minority maintained that it regrettably could not be done, that the opportunity and time had passed forever into history. Most who felt that way were unsure precisely why and how the opportunity had passed, and why it could not be restored if all parties so wished. It was generally something along the lines of “the government won’t accept it, as nice as it would be.”

To me, the underlying feeling is that a trade agreement like CETA isn’t anything to get excited about, but if CANZUK Free Movement was included it very much would be. Such a trade agreement would offer something for the majority of Canadians to rally behind and get engaged with. It seems that a number of Canadians feel that if the UK wants free trade, then Canada should push for free movement.

I have found that whenever I look for what is happening in British (and often even global) politics, it is often something to do with Brexit, especially what sort of exit deal the Government is aiming for. It would seem to revolve around four very remarkable ladies: Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon and Marine LePen. Others look wider and feel that there are three men – Jean-Claude Juncker, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump – who somehow hold the other keys for Britain’s future outside of the EU. While these seven may indeed be important, sometimes it would seem parts of the press and our host of armchair statesmen-negotiators (of whom I must acknowledge being one) forget the world is larger than the EU, the USA and China.

I am therefore pleased to announce it seems that Canada, like the USA, China, India, Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Japan, are all interested in treaties or trade deals of some kind with the UK.

To conclude an article about Brexit that has not used the words “soft”, “hard”, or “grey”, the future in 2017 may well bring closer Canada-UK ties. As many others have noted PM May is in the position to direct the course of the UK for at least a generation. Over on this side of ‘the pond’ it seems Canadians are happy that Canada is en-route, and speaking for myself, I am too.

About Ted Yarbrough

Ted is the co-founder and editor of the Daily Globe. He is a long-time blogger on British politics and has written a thesis on Thatcherism.

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  1. Ian Pye

    Generally find your piece very well written and thought through, with a couple of exceptions. The first being the idea of free movement between Canada and the UK as part of a trade deal. I don’t think that would be something that would happen if you listen to the mood music here about Brexit. One of the major planks of the Leave win and Mrs. May’s subsequent statement on our position was to get back control of our borders and cut immigration. The whole concept of ‘free movement’ of people’s has become anathema to British thinking after its imposition by the EU.
    The second is the suggestion that Nicola Sturgeon is any way remarkable. If you read the posts, blogs and other media outlets she is being seen as taking Scotland to hell in a hand cart. She has the petulant view that indy2 is ‘inevitable’ (her word) ignoring the fact that another referendum is the gift of the UK government and that 61% of Scots don’t want it. She has made a fool of herself in her trips to Brussels,not meeting anyone of any significance but being politely told that Scotland will leave the EU with the rest of the UK whether she likes it or not. She ignores the fact that Scotland only exports 11% of its goods to the EU but 64% of them to the rest of the UK. In other words she wants to exchange Scotland’s biggest market for a minority market. She also ignores the fact that the the Scottish economy is in such dire straits that she wouldn’t pass the economic entrance criteria to re-join the EU even if Spain didn’t veto such an application, which she would and has already made that clear to Ms. Sturgeon. I could go on, but remarkable is not an adjective that Scots would apply to Ms. Sturgeon. Sorry.

    • Isaac Anderson

      Hello Ian,

      Thanks for the compliment. Indeed, Mrs May and Vote Leave have both been very much against Free Movement as a general rule, and while Brexit is indeed a proof of this, I would not go so far as to say it is anathema to the public.

      In 2015 when YouGov polled the Canadians, they polled the UK, too. The result was not as clear-cut as it was in Canada, but still a majority of Britons (58%) wanted CANZUK Free Movement, compared to only 46% who wanted EU Free Movement. Of note, only 20% of Britons are opposed to the idea. I’m not by any means saying it is massive surge of popularity, but with nearly 60% being in favour, I think it would be unwise to categorically state that Britons don’t want Free Movement with anybody, full stop.

      Now as for Ms Sturgeon, please do not think I am a fan in any way, shape or form; there are many ways to use the work ‘remarkable’! Perhaps I should have used another – less ambiguous – word. Of course she – and the rest of the SNP – would love to turn Scotland into an effective one party state (someone once called it a Haggis Dictatorship, I believe), never mind whatever consequences the Scots themselves might face. Churchill’s description of a fanatic as being someone who “won’t change their opinions or the subject” fits her very well, I would opine. To be perfectly honest, a Minister who spends NHS funds on teaching staff Gaelic as opposed to hiring more medical staff for understaffed hospitals is remarkable – but in a very bad way. I’d say it is remarkable how she’s able – or wants – to do so much harm and doesn’t seem care about it – or anything else apart from her ‘indyref2’ Castle-In-The-Sky.

      Now in the UK, I’m sure you’ve all seen through her bluster and bluff, but over here parts of the press still see her as having the power over Brexit she pretends to have hence my mentioning it.

      Enjoy your weekend,


  2. David Lane

    Enjoyed your article very much as it is interesting to hear what Canadian’s think of Brexit and CANZUK. However I feel you could have mentioned the you gov result for NZ and Australia as well to inform others of the support this idea has across the four nations. Also I feel you could have added some information about the very successful freedom of movement agreement between Australia and NZ, as it is a very good case study of how it could work across the CANZUK nations. It is also worth mentioning how important it will be that we become a lot closer in security terms. With the US appearing to become a lot more inward looking and an unstable world looking ever more unstable, freedom of movement will naturally build on the close ties and trust that CANZUK nations peoples have for each other. Whether you look at Canada’s claim to the North West passage been challenged, Aust, NZ and the UK’s Antarctic territories been challenged by China and others, Chinas Island building or the apparent rise of Islamic extremism in Indonesia we are all going to depend on strong alliances and firm reliable friends in the coming years.

    • Isaac Anderson

      Hello David,

      I must say I wasn’t thinking about making this article one about CANZUK Free Movement and what the Brits or those “down under” feel about it. I looking solely from the Canadian perspective. But as you’ve now given me the idea, perhaps I will write an article on the benefits of greater CANZUK integration and Free Movement!

      And indeed, I should have mentioned that support for CANZUK Free Movement is 70% in Australia and 82% in New Zealand, 75% in Canada and 58% in the UK.

      I definitely agree with your point about the increase in uncertainty in the world, and Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been Britain’s firmest allies for practically their entire existence. The number of defence agreements between CANZUK and the USA show this: Five Eyes, UKUSA, ABCA Armies, AUSCANNZUKUS, Air and Space Interoperability Council and others – some of which are classified, I believe. (Also of note is the Five Powers Defence Arrangement, which is composed of the Commonwealth nations of UK, Australia, New Zealand along with Malaysia and Singapore.)

      Firm friends are as you say very important in the world we face today, and family typically make the firmest allies – and friends. I do think there needs to be more to Brexit than just free trade deals – and I’m glad to hear the Aussies are pushing for relaxing of UK migration laws.