• Brexit And The Commonwealth: ''Soft'' CANZUK And The Common Travel Area

    Article published by LawCareers.net

    Since Brexit, and increasing speculation that the United Kingdom will leave the EU single market to stop European free movement, there have been conflicting ideas on the next steps forward. Many note quick trade deals with superpowers like the United States, China and Japan – as well as the European Union itself – are crucial.

    A union of Commonwealth nations could be discussed after Brexit
    (photo: Getty images)
    Others have suggested that the United Kingdom should also aim to work with Canada, Australia and New Zealand to create a deeper partnership, citing their shared common law legal systems, monarch and political cultures – along with very similar standards of living and GDP per capita, which other Commonwealth countries lack.

    Campaigners argue the latter point is imperative for public support for free movement, so there is no strong economic pull for citizens of one country to move to another.

    Lots of thought has been given to the question of ‘hard’ or ‘soft Brexit’ – and any plan for a CANZUK (ie, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom) arrangement is predicated on a harder Brexit, which looks increasingly likely. However, less thought has been given to the shape a CANZUK arrangement should take – hard or soft?

    Plans for an EU-like CANZUK, with an ‘ever-closer union’ of pooled sovereignty, a shared currency, a supra-national parliament and CANZUK law which takes primacy over national law, are impractical and undesirable. The socio-political directions in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have, over the last 100 years, moved gradually away from integration with Britain.

    While Canadian Conservatives are still called ‘Tories’ and New Zealand has kept knights and dames, the United Kingdom's first-past-the-post electoral system stands in stark contrast to the proportional representation of other nations. That Brexit was greeted in Australia and New Zealand with calls to declare themselves republics and leave the Commonwealth, to emphasise their different directions, underlines this.

    There is no public support in any CANZUK nation for supra-national institutions – indeed, the British have just voted in a referendum to leave one, so it would be rather difficult to persuade them to give up the control and sovereignty they’d just taken back by entering another. Any deal involving Canada would also need to be ratified by all Canadian States, and it’s highly unlikely Quebec, with its strong French culture and desire for independence, would agree to enter a supra-national institution founded partly on British values.

    Yet polls do show strong support for free movement of workers across CANZUK, ranging from 58% in the United Kingdom to 85% in New Zealand.

    This would be best compared not to the European Union, in which integration runs far deeper, but to the Common Travel Area (CTA) between the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This has existed since 1922 and is likely to remain even if Ireland is forced to leave it after a ‘hard Brexit’, with Ireland inside the European Union single market and the United Kingdom, Man and Channel Islands inside the CTA.

    There’s no reason it shouldn’t be extended to Canada, Australia and New Zealand – a new institution wouldn’t even need to be created.

    The level of integration desired by CANZUK citizens could be achieved very quickly; and with no existing mechanism to expand this further with political, economic, fiscal or military integration, CANZUK couldn’t grow beyond the bounds of acceptability. Ensuring a lack of “mission creep” would increase the likelihood of CANZUK being accepted by voters.

    Full-blown CANZUK lacks both political will and substantial benefits. But ‘soft CANZUK’ – expanding the CTA to Canada, Australia and New Zealand – has not only public support, but will require far less effort to achieve. It should be something seriously considered during and after Brexit and trade negotiations, assuming the United Kingdom leaves the EU single market or negotiates an opt-out from EU free movement.