After a tough couple of months for the UK public in deciding who would lead their country after the general election, they will soon be thrown back into the lime-light to decide on the most important issue affecting their country; membership of the European Union.
The referendum, to be held by 2017, will ask the simple question of whether the UK, after 42 years of membership, should stay or go.
Both "Yes" and "No" campaigns are in the process of battling to win support from the majority of the British population, each citing economic and political statistics for their individual cause.
However, from the perspective of our organisation, what effect would a UK exit from the European Union have on the potential for introducing free movement between Commonwealth countries, specifically the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Would there even be an effect, and if so, would a "Yes" or "No" vote hold the key to increasing the possibility of legislative reform within a few years?
One important point to mention, especially for citizens of Canada, Australia and New Zealand who are interested in this debate, is that no-one in the "Yes" or "No" camps is proposing the UK leaves the European market. No-one is advocating for trade restrictions, tariffs or barriers to entry against an EU accountable for £211 billion worth of UK exports, which in turn, help support 4.2 million UK jobs. The debate regarding the referendum, despite the frequent confusion, is one of a political nature, not economic. It is a debate concerning the free political will of the British government, independent from the legislative bodies of Brussels and Strasbourg, and not a country becoming isolated from Europe with it's economic relations assigned to the pages of European history.
Should the "No" vote succeed, the UK will not destroy it's trading relationships with Europe as so many have suggested. Countries such as Norway and Switzerland have long remained outside the European Union but have maintained similar trade agreements to what the UK has been apart of for decades. The UK would simply become privy of those trade agreements, especially considering it's strong import/export economy benefiting EU member states by £40 million per day.
The issue is simply a political one, and one which could have a significant effect on the free movement campaign, benefiting Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders across the world.
We have seen from rigorous campaigning by our organisation that the public support for CANZUK free movement is strong. Our online petition, advocating for legislation to introduce free movement, has collected over 76,000 signatures in under 4 months, and is one of the fastest growing petitions on Change.org. Furthermore, an online poll conducted by CBC News in Canada found that out of 81,000 respondents, over 91% supported free movement and mobility-zone negotiations with the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The general public, including countless Brits, are keen, engaged and supportive of our proposals. They agree that citizens of our four countries, each sharing the same Head of State, the same Westminster style parliamentary system, the same native language and the same historical bond through our Commonwealth heritage, deserve to live amongst each other, and benefit from each other's societies while developing our economic and sociological ties.
However, the grave reality of the UK continuing it's membership within the EU, is that such an initiative occurring becomes highly unlikely, and the wishes of pro-Commonwealth supporters could be silenced at the expense of furthering political integration with the European member states. As German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated a few years ago:
“We need more Europe. We don’t only need monetary union, we also need a so-called fiscal union -and most of all we need a political union – which means we need to gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control.”
community driven, common interest driven and, increasingly, market and business driven" would seem an impossible objective to reach under an EU solely advocating for European integration.
The opportunities for further political integration within the EU, following a "Yes" vote in the referendum, would be endless. The opportunities, however, for developing UK relationships within the Commonwealth and a CANZUK union, would be very limited. The further that the EU moves towards federalism, the further away the UK moves from the Commonwealth.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has stated that the UK betrayed its Commonwealth relationships for trading arrangements with the European Economic Community many decades ago, and because of such a betrayal, Britain has never been able to revive the free movement schemes that once existed between Canada, Australia and New Zealand. By 2017, the UK will have the chance to relinquish control from the EU, and form its own agenda concerning trade, diplomacy and free movement within the Commonwealth, and establish the labour mobility initiative that thousands of people across the world have requested through our online petition.
If the UK, however, chooses to remain within the EU's political union, and assigned to the legislative requirements of Brussels and Strasbourg, Commonwealth free movement becomes that much harder to accomplish, and when the EU achieves the federation it has been longing for, the UK may lose all powers to develop Commonwealth relations by handing foreign policy control to Europe.
Again, as Boris Johnson said recently;
We need to raise our eyes beyond Europe, forging and intensifying links with countries that are going to be growing in the decades ahead — countries that offer immense opportunities for British goods, people, services and capital. The UK must have a truly global perspective, and not think of itself as "little Europeans run by Brussels"".
What better way for the UK to raise its eyes beyond Europe, than to grant itself absolute political control over foreign affairs, and accomplish free movement between Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
C.F.M.O Founder & Executive Director
[Image Attributions]: UK/Europe flags: BetSpecial.co.uk | UK/Europe flags at EU parliament: Emmanuel Dunand/Getty Images | Jean-Claude Juncker: ChangePartnership.org