After months of parliamentary deadlock over Brexit, the UK will head to the polls in the first December election for nearly a hundred years. But which parties are most supportive of CANZUK and ready to negotiate free movement and trade with Canada, Australia and New Zealand?
CANZUK International in Toronto, Canada
For the past few years, British politics has been monopolized over one divisive and contentious issue: Brexit.
In June 2016, the British public voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union, yet three and a half years later, the UK remains in the EU with frustration mounting on both sides of the parliamentary benches. For numerous reasons, parliament is in a state of deadlock with neither the government nor opposition parties willing to move on their positions.
However, this election seeks to break the deadlock once and for all, and the sooner the current stalemate is negated, the better it is for the CANZUK campaign.
At present, the UK is unable to enact any form of trade or migration arrangements with any other country in the world while it is a part of the European Union. Once the UK passes legislation confirming its EU withdrawal, the trade negotiations and enactments with Canada, Australia and New Zealand can begin, but undoubtedly, the UK must leave the European Union and break the state of flux that it has experienced over the last three and a half years.
But if the deadlock is broken on December 12th, which party would advocate the most for CANZUK and enhance the possibility of free movement and trade between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK?
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The Conservative Party
Led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Conservatives have frequently promoted the CANZUK campaign in public and behind parliamentary doors. Johnson himself has said the CANZUK union represents “a natural alliance to be deepened and developed” and has called for a Trans-Tasman style free movement area to exist between the UK and Australia (with further development to Canada and New Zealand).
Conservative MPs have also pledged their support for CANZUK, including Isle of Wight MP, Bob Seely, who chairs the CANZUK All Party Parliamentary Group and issued a report with other MPs advocating for the introduction of CANZUK, stating:
“Since 1973, there has been a common travel area – known as the Trans-Tasman agreement – between Australia and New Zealand, which could serve as the model for a wider CANZUK area. The UK should propose the creation of a similar area, extended to all CANZUK states”.
Clearly, the Conservative Party have significant support within their ranks for advocating and developing CANZUK, but one must ask if their support for migration and trade agreements with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom will take a back seat to negotiating free trade with the European Union?
The new “Brexit Deal” that the Prime Minister negotiated in Brussels a few months ago does not automatically mean that the Brexit saga ends. On the contrary, it simply begins a new chapter. Once legislation confirming the UK’s withdrawal is enacted, the British government will need to negotiate a new trade arrangement with the European Union – something the Prime Minister has vowed to achieve by the end of 2020.
Given the significant support for the European Union in the UK (48%) and the opposition parties watchful eyes, there is no doubt that negotiating a trade deal with the EU will be a priority for the government and could sideline efforts to negotiate CANZUK free movement and trade in the interim.
The Labour Party
Led by the official Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party are the underdogs to win the coming election but have provided critical opposition of the Johnson government, which could sway voters come election day.
Regarding the party’s support for CANZUK, there are those who have expressed support for furthering ties between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom but have remained on the back benches (for now). Paul Sweeney, Member of Parliament for Glasgow North East, has openly opposed Brexit, but has also stated that “the CANZUK vision offers a vital opportunity to expand British influence in the world”, a view which he and many of his colleagues (such as Ian Murray MP) share.
However, support for the CANZUK campaign in the Shadow Cabinet has remained somewhat of a mystery to date. This is hardly surprising given that the party, and Jeremy Corbyn himself, will not conclusively state whether they are pro-remain or pro-leaving the EU for fear of alienating factions of their support base.
On the one hand, if handed a majority government, the Labour Party could decide to campaign against leaving the European Union, thereby nullifying their support for developing CANZUK free movement and trade. On the other hand, they could also decide to be in favour of Brexit and dedicate the next five years to negotiating free trade and migration arrangements with the CANZUK countries (as well as negotiating a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU).
Many will say that Jeremy Corbyn would be in favour of furthering free movement with Canada, Australia and New Zealand as exposing the UK’s labour market to three additional and highly prosperous countries would only benefit workers and the economy. As Labour pride themselves on being the party for workers and the NHS, opening the UK to a greater labour pool and highly skilled doctors from CANZUK countries could certainly be complimentary to their manifesto and win support from conservative voters.
However, as there are significant elements within the Labour Party who prioritize the UK’s relationship with the European Union and the threat to workers rights and welfare should the UK leave, there is an equal chance that a CANZUK alliance would be bottom of the agenda for any Corbyn led government.
There are those within the Labour Party who adamantly support CANZUK, but it is anybody’s guess as to whether Jeremy Corbyn and a Cabinet in his name would be supportive of furthering migration and trade ties with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. At present, it is simply a coin-toss.
The Liberal Democrats
Led by Jo Swinson MP, the Liberal Democrats have benefited from a rise in popularity over the years and an increase in support for their hardline pro-remain stance on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
At present, it is unclear whether the party itself is supportive of closer ties between CANZUK nations, as apart from a few online grassroots blogs and websites, CANZUK has not been recognized by its MPs or senior leaders.
Stating the obvious, it is difficult to conclude that the party would be supportive of immediately establishing closer ties between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK when it is supportive of EU membership and keeping trade policy in the hands of the EU Commission.
The recently published manifesto is supportive of immigration, but unfortunately, gives no mention to the CANZUK countries or even Anglosphere and Commonwealth countries. Such emphasis only applies to protecting freedom of movement within the EU, imposing a 28 day detention limit on aslylum seekers and resettling 10,000 refugee children.
Likewise, the Liberal Democrats’ position on foreign policy simply states continued support for the UN and NATO, banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia, reviving the Iran nuclear deal and backing a two-state solution to the Isreal-Palestine crisis. These are, of course, optimistic policies but give no mention of increasing cooperation within CANZUK.
Of course, it is entirely possible that the aforementioned policies are the party’s most popular and vote-winning. CANZUK could easily be future party policy once the UK has settled its (permanent) place in the European Union and applicable changes have been made to the UK’s immigration and foreign policy positions.
However, one must wonder if CANZUK would ever be given a place on Jo Swinson’s government agenda, given the lack of support from MPs to date and the party’s position on furthering its commitment to the EU at the expense of furthering ties elsewhere.
CANZUK International is a non-partisan advocacy organisation operating across Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
For the purposes of independence, we do not endorse political parties but will always endorse candidates and MPs who are supportive of furthering migration and trade relations between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, regardless of party affiliation.
This election, we encourage those across the UK to vote for a local candidate that is supportive of the CANZUK campaign and will advocate for CANZUK International’s policy objectives.
Citizens can register to vote on the UK government’s website, and those living abroad can also register and vote in the election. Polls will open on December 12th and results will be announced throughout the evening.
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