The debate on CANZUK is stuck in the context of the United Kingdom in the 2010s. For supporters of CANZUK to keep the concept relevant in all four kingdoms in the 2020s, the debate needs to be moved on.
This situation is not surprising given the context in which CANZUK was originally proposed in the Untied Kingdom. CANZUK, within Britain, has traditionally been put forward as an alternative to the European Union, with the wider concept of the Anglosphere featuring heavily in the writings and speeches of prominent Brexiteers. A good example of this has been Baron Hannan of Kingsclere. Back when he was Daniel Hannan, he founded the European Research Group (the backbencher group of Conservative and Unionist MPs who pushed Brexit through the United Kingdom’s House of Commons) and Vote Leave (the official leave campaign from the 2016 British referendum on European Union membership). Hannan’s writings emphasised the inherent link between the Anglospheric countries, with The New Road to Serfdom from 2010 having a basis in believing in their being a special system of governance in the English speaking countries, an argument that Hannan took much further with 2013’s How We Invented Freedom and Why It Matters (published in the United States of America as Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World). Both books contained heavily within the pro-Anglosphere arguments an anti-EU message, directly comparing the Anglosphere with the European Union, which was not surprising as a comparission given he was an MEP at that time, and proposing it as an alternative. Hannan has gone on to be a key CANZUK supporter. A similar case is true with other CANZUK campaigners in the United Kingdom. CANZUK support in the House of Commons has predominately come from long time Eurosceptics and Brexiteers, such as Michael Fabricant (the first person to mention CANZUK in the European Parliament) and Andrew Rosindell. The CANZUK supporters in the United Kingdom, most probably not intentionally but through the nature of how CANZUK is currently being argued, are essentially a continuation of the Brexit campaign by those important enough to still be in parliament but aren’t currently in ministerial positions.
The problem is that the tie between Brexit and CANZUK is not just a connection in the United Kingdom, it is also a concern for the three new kingdoms. This is partially due to the promotion from the UK. Hannan was a key speaker at the 2018 Conservative Party of Canada conference where he focused on CANZUK. Supporters of CANZUK beyond guest speakers in Australia, Canada and New Zealand are also just as Brexit based as those in Great Britain. De facto CANZUK campaign leader in Australia, Senator James Paterson, backed Brexit during the referendum. So did former Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer. His successor, Erin O’Toole and New Zealand Act Party’s leader David Seymour have both written pro-CANZUK articles that have appeared on the Brexit Central website. CANZUK International is also linked to the Brexit debate having been founded the year before the referendum. That Brexit focus is dominant in all four CANZUK Kingdoms when it comes to CANZUK advocacy.
The problem is that it’s most likely that CANZUK won’t be achieved if it is only Brexit supporters who agree with it. The debate following the referendum in the United Kingdom on how to achieve Brexit demonstrated that agreement on what it should look like wasn’t even achieved by those who supported it. Therefore, to expect that CANZUK can be enacted out of a continuation Brexit campaign is unrealistic as there simply too much division within the former leave movement to create a majority out of it alone.
However, the problem runs much deeper. Brexit is no longer a serious mainstream political issue. The UK now has left the EU with a trade deal. It is, for all intents and purposes, a done issue. In the 2020s, it is not current or pressing in the same way as it was in the United Kingdom in the 2010s. Therefore, for CANZUK to remain being argued for in the context of the UK’s EU membership is for it be condemned to irrelevancy. As a result, a new approach towards how CANZUK is argued will be needed if it is to bring former Remainers from all four CANZUK Kingdoms into the movement and which will have a focus relevant for the three new kingdoms. There are two ways this needs to be done: a shift in how the current policy proposals for CANZUK are presented; and a change in emphasis on what policies should come as a part of CANZUK.
The first point is a fairly simple one which simply requires a change in wording. CANZUK has come with two main proposals in its current form, those being free trade and free movement. Typically, these have been argued for as better replacements to the EU. It has been seen as a choice between free trade with the EU for Britain or with CANZUK. Those supporting CANZUK have tended to explain how trade with CANZUK would be easier than with the EU for cultural, legal and linguistic reasons. Meanwhile, the topic of free movement has been approached in a similar fashion, with it being argued that CANZUK citizens are more likely to integrate into British society due to their Anglospheric identity than EU citizens. The problem is that this is very British centric and is also no longer an either-or question in the 2020s. The British trade deal has proven that tariff free movement of goods can be achieved with the EU and CANZUK (assuming the CPTPP accession is approved). To explain why trade with CANZUK is better is irrelevant as it is not a choice between the two in the 2020s in the same way it appeared to be in the 2010s. There is a similar case with free movement. Now it’s ended between the UK and EU. Comparing where free movement would be better with isn’t required. To maintain the debate in these comparisons would be both to continue to isolate those who would have rather had the UK remain in the EU and push it further down the political agenda as the EU becomes less important to the internal affairs of the CANZUK Kingdoms. Therefore, to keep the CANZUK campaign relevant, a shift in arguing for free trade and free movement on their own benefits, rather than why it is better to do it through the Anglosphere than the EU, is needed. That would necessitate arguing for regulatory recognition rather than alignment without mentioning the EU and campaigning for Trans-Tasman Travel Agreement style free movement on why it is a good system, rather than explain why it is preferable to the EU’s style of free movement.
However, that will not be enough, as those two policy proposals are too linked to the EU debate. Both free trade and free movement were provided to the UK by the EU. To only propose what the EU already did for the UK will mean that the CANZUK debate will be permanently stuck in the EU context. For CANZUK to truly be relevant in this decade, it needs to offer something distinct to move it beyond the 2010s. There are a series of proposals that can be pushed to do that, such as military cooperation, foreign policy alignment and United Nations reform. To fail to develop CANZUK policy proposals in areas such as those, outside of the EU’s remit, is to fail to keep CANZUK relevant, even in the UK.
This shift is already starting to happen. Today (15th March 2021) I released a report for the new Centre for Liberty on CANZUK with that exact intention. However, it will require more than just one report on CANZUK to achieve this shift needed for CANZUK to be realised. Those associated with Brexit most certainly should not be pushed out of the campaign, as they have proven themselves very successful in achieving what originally looked like overly ambitious goals and have provided a lot of the groundwork for the concept. However, they need to move on if they are to attract the critical mass of former Remainers needed to make CANZUK a reality. That evolution of the whole idea, as in the policies that comprise CANZUK, and tone in which the already proposed ideas are supported will be required if CANZUK is to happen.