Though the US has long been considered the world’s leading power and a pillar of Western democracy, some now acknowledge a so-called ‘European pillar’ in the form of the European Union. Yet, the notion of a potential third pillar distinct from either the US or EU has attracted far less attention. Though to rule one out entirely may be short-sighted.
Brexit has left the UK standing at a crossroads. Despite having safeguarded the £670 billion worth of UK-EU trade and the upcoming ‘Festival of Brexit’ promising a dazzling display of national unity, many may still wonder what the country’s future looks like. International trade deals aside, its position remains uncertain – vulnerable even.
Without a seat at the EU table its role in Europe risks being carved up by France and Germany. Moreover, US interest in its ‘special relationship’ with Britain could face strain owing to complications over Northern Ireland. Brexit may also jeopardise Britain’s image as a strong trading nation. Recent footage of UK-bound lorries forced to turn back due to nightmarish bureaucracy does little to inspire confidence in Brexit’s promise of a ‘Global Britain’. No longer ruling the waves then, it would seem the wind is currently not in Britain’s sails.
However, there may yet be another way forward for British multilateralism. Does, as some analysts would have us believe, Britain’s road to diplomatic recovery lie in the Anglosphere?
With enduring linguistic and cultural ties to some of the world’s most developed and progressive countries, North America and Oceania already appear as natural starting points for re-defining Britain’s post-Brexit multilateralism. Nevertheless, there may yet be an opportunity to strengthen these ties even further. One proposal in particular is beginning to gain traction. Enter CANZUK, the hypothetical bloc consisting of four nations sharing the same language, history, head of state, Common Law legal system and Westminster parliamentary structure: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
According to its advocates, CANZUK would not attempt a political union, focusing instead on trade and foreign policy cooperation. With a total population of at least 135 million and a combined GDP of over $6 trillion CANZUK would be among the top four largest economic blocs in the world behind the United States, China and the EU. Recent figures also suggest broad support for its implementation with 68% of Britons, 73% of Australians, 76% of Canadians and 82% of New Zealanders in favour. Moreover, the proposal has gained support from politicians such as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Erin O’Toole.
Freedom of movement
Crucially, free movement would be implemented. CANZUK advocates insist however that it would not resemble the EU’s Schengen since firstly it would bar those with a criminal record, an infectious disease or anyone considered to be a national security risk. Secondly, it would not encourage one-sided migration since all four countries are at similar stages of development. A CANZUK free movement policy would also simply mean expanding pre-existing treaties among its member states such as the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA). Additionally, free movement would open up a significant portion of the academic world to UK university students, giving those feeling disillusioned by the sudden loss of Erasmus the chance to again enjoy a global experience. With close familial ties in Australia where over 1.2 million British nationals now live CANZUK could bring great travel, study and work benefits to many.
Foreign Policy Cooperation
Covering an area of 18,187,210 km, it would be larger than the Russian Federation. Such favourable geography would allow the bloc to project its influence over three continents and across several key commercial and military zones including the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Questions to address
Geography would also present challenges. The sheer distance between the countries could tug at cohesion and the notion of an aligned foreign policy – owing to divergent geographic interests. Additionally, the UK’s commerce with the United States and the European Union would still outweigh that of CANZUK. Whilst trade with Canada amounted to £20 billion in 2019, Britain traded £688 billion with the United States in the same year. This could prompt critics to downplay the economic argument for CANZUK. Finally, if the proposal is ever to succeed it must become politically mainstream in each of the four countries. Its proponents will also be tasked with attracting bi-partisan support – most notably from the political left who may feel the alliance is too closely stalked by the dark shadows of an imperial past. Sceptics would therefore need to be won over by a pro-multilateralism, citizens’ rights and commerce argument if CANZUK is ever to become politically viable.
It is clear global power is continuing to shift towards the formation of political blocs. The African Union, EU and ASEAN are all examples of this. Britain may well have to accept this reality. Failure to do so could see its relevance increasingly called into question – both abroad as well as at home.
Admonishing the UK for its perceived isolationism following Brexit has proven to be an effective strategy for the SNP. Thus, should CANZUK successfully showcase Britain’s commitment to multilateralism, it could provide the much-needed support for the union which the government desires. With authoritarianism on the rise and human rights increasingly threatened, could a CANZUK alliance be the missing third pillar needed to help prevent global democracy from crumbling?
Image courtesy of Reddit