Writing for the political commentary website 1828, Jack Powell explains how relations with Canada, Australia and New Zealand will provide a prosperous and progressive future for the United Kingdom as it departs from the European Union.
‘A week is a long time in politics’, so the phrase goes. How much time, then, must a year represent? Certainly, asking David Cameron that question may prove dramatic.
In May of 2015, he was the triumphant leader of a Party which had won a majority for the first time in over twenty years; a year later, a lame duck who had just lost the political gamble of a lifetime.
Indeed, would the Theresa May of October 2016 recognise herself one year on? The former being the ‘new Iron Lady’, someone who commanded the authority of all in British politics. The latter, a shadow of her former self, clinging on by her fingertips after going from over forty points ahead, to losing her majority.
To her credit, she has picked herself up, and a year on from the disastrous election campaign, she seems to have rediscovered her confidence. So, why is there so much speculation in today’s newspapers that she would not be distraught if we remain inside a permanent customs union?
The 2017 Theresa May assured those who voted to leave, and indeed all those who voted remain and now want to see Brexit implemented, that we would be taking back the ability to strike international trade agreements. Indeed, a senior Government source further clarified the position: ‘To put this to rest, we are categorically leaving the customs union. It is not our policy to stay in the customs union.’
Ever since the referendum, Theresa May has been explicit that Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, that no deal is better than a bad deal. If Brexit is to be respected and implemented, we must have control of our international trade policy.
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We will certainly not have taken back control if we are to allow the European Union to continue negotiating on our behalf, especially when we will have even less representation than before – indeed, zero accountability for the decisions they make on our behalf.
The simple reality is that the European Union is terrible at negotiating trade arrangements. Twenty-eight countries, with almost as many different languages, customs and industries, simply cannot be a coherent bloc whilst negotiating sensitive matters such as trade. It is why, to date, the EU has failed to implement a groundbreaking trade agreement with the USA, Australia, India, China, Brazil or Japan – countries with which we would be free to negotiate and implement free trade agreements far more easily.
This is why the Government seemingly decided at a very early stage that we were to leave the Customs Union in its current form. Britain, they seemed to understand, was by instinct, history and purpose, a global country with ties to every corner of the world.
Britain, so Theresa May said, was never truly comfortable being in the European Union and turning its back on old friends and new allies. She was right – Britain has always been an internationalist country, our sights have always been set to the high seas, our trade – even now – is higher with the rest of the world than with the European Union.
Indeed, on a practical note, I am yet to hear a logical explanation as to why the Prime Minister would set up a department for international trade unless she knew unequivocally that Britain would, in future, negotiate trade agreements as a single entity.
Indeed, by the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London a few weeks ago, we secured staunch commitments from Canada, Australia and New Zealand that free trade agreements would be ready for the day after Brexit. One such opportunity that leaving the Customs Union presents is ‘CANZUK’ – standing for Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It is a proposed bloc to strengthen ties between countries which already hold so much in common, focusing specifically on three areas: free trade, foreign policy and constitutional affairs.
On free trade, it seeks to establish a dynamic multilateral free trade agreement between the four countries, removing customs duties and other barriers to commerce. It would also include freedom of movement within the group – an essential ingredient for a truly free market. However, unlike the European Union, the four countries would be very economically similar – the United Kingdom being the clear leader in terms of economic and military power – but the other three being very strong as well, sharing similar quality of life standards, employment opportunities and life expectancy.
All of these put together mean that immigration would not rocket under such an arrangement. The issue in terms of mass immigration comes when you have, as is the case with the EU, much poorer countries whose citizens, understandably, would want to flock to a country like Britain if given the chance.
Crucially, whilst freedom of movement could occur within CANZUK, there would be an exclusion provision, as already exists between Australia and New Zealand, for those deemed to be a threat to any of the countries’ national interests. So, it would ensure free mobility and economic growth, without jeopardising security.
Indeed, support for freedom of movement is backed by our respective citizens. Polls show that in Canada, the approval rate stands at 76%, in Australia 73%, in New Zealand 82% and in the UK 68%. These figures are unsurprising when you factor in that we all share a common history and culture, close family ties, the same monarch, the same system of parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and trial by jury – we are truly a family of nations.
On foreign affairs, in relation to security and intelligence, the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America – an agreement to share intelligence – has been incredibly effective in the fight against terrorism. It provides a terrific starting point for a more comprehensive alliance for the CANZUK nations.
The third area is that we share so much constitutionally – in particular the fact that we share a Head of State. The monarch, especially the incumbent, Queen Elizabeth II, has played a vital role as a symbol of what we have in common. Indeed, the Crown has been the rock over a long history of peace; the English speaking countries which have retained the monarchy have been far more successful in maintaining peace, avoiding civil unrest and ensuring equal rights for all than their republican counterparts.
A few weeks ago, when Theresa May met with her Australian, New Zealand and Canadian counterparts, the picture of the four of them struck a chord – it looked like the future. If, in the coming weeks, Theresa May shackles us to the Customs Union; keeping us detached from old friends and new allies, then mine will be among many other voices demanding her resignation.
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