Questioning CANZUK | Simon Parler

With Britain out of the EU, and questions being raised about our place in the world, the online space has seen an abundance of articles promoting the idea CANZUK – the EU-lite equivalent for the Anglosphere minus the United States. Most peculiar though have been its advocates among some Brexiteers. Peculiar because despite their entreaties to the public that sovereignty must be returned to the UK, they now plead for a new multilateral union, one that would again dilute our sovereignty. In fact, their support for CANZUK makes one wonder whether it was the constituent countries of the EU and not the notion of an external union itself that was objected to. Afterall, CANUK’s advocates are very aware that the UK, as its largest and most populous member, would dominate within such a union – something denied to the UK when in the EU.

Aside from this glaring hypocrisy, CANZUK’s cheerleaders chiefly rely on two arguments – cultural bonds and an appeal to English-speaking comradery, or CANZUK’s prospective global superpower status. Despite CANZUK’s supporters’ constant disclaimers to the contrary, these arguments, in my opinion, are the products of a shallow imperial nostalgia. They feel grounded in an idealised notion of what CANZUK might become, not its likely realised form or the would-be consequences for the UK. 

Culturally, what is to be gained from such a union? In the minds of its advocates images of brotherly union are perhaps conjured up, faded black and white photos of men from its constituent nations gregariously sharing a hot drink and cigarette shortly after the D-day landings – a happy romanticism for sure. But this is not 1945. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are now completely untethered from Europe’s rich cultural history of which Britain belongs. More so than any other countries, they have internalised the kultur Americana and all its divisive emptiness. 

Britain has too fallen victim to this virus, a product of its proliferation amongst the English-speaking nations. And yet our European heritage has shielded us somewhat against a terminal infection – at least for the time being. Europe, despite the EU’s liberalism, remains reassuringly un-woke comparatively to the Non-European Anglosphere. Marcon and Merkel may frustrate, but can one honestly say they are worse than the savour of ‘people-kind’ Justin Trudeau or post-birth abortion darling Jacinda Arden? Yes, these leaders are temporal, but CANZ’s cultural course is one directional and I don’t want to hitch Britain to that train. 

A common language is about the only real commonality remaining. We do not share the same History. Ours is over a thousand years whilst theirs is barely three hundred when discounting the history of their indigenous inhabitants. Since formally and legally separating, each has chosen different path to the others, forming their own identities in the process. Haebus Corpus, the Bill of Rights, the Glorious Revolution – if the British public care so little for these things they are likely non-existent in the cultural consciousness of CANZ. Maybe we do share Liberal values, but what are liberal values, has it not just become a catch-all phrase void of content? Where once it meant free speech and free trade now it simply means going along with the latest trend espoused by self-appointed cultural class. There is no culture worth uniting CANZUK for, only fragments of an irretrievable past. 

Militarily, supporters of CANZUK do present a stronger case. There is no denying that CANUK would truly be a global power. But to what end would this serve. Has the UK’s foreign policy over the past twenty years really made the world a better place; has it actually improved the lives of our citizens? Defending our record would be difficult for even the most committed internationalist. After all, our interventions in Iraq and Libya unleashed two decades of violence across the Middle East and unnecessarily helped to radicalise sections of our Muslim population. 

None of this is to say that the UK does not have a positive impact globally – as a nation we are experts at using our soft-power influence. CANZUK however is an argument for hard power, which is why it is worth highlighting the UK’s own hard power failings. Aside from being more resourceful, what difference would CANZUK actually make on the global stage? For starters it is unlikely to be a genuine alternative to the United States – the US would still be over three times larger in terms of population and GDP. In reality, CANZUK would continue to in lockstep with the US. NATO would remain, as would the Five Eyes Intelligence agreement to which all constituent members of CANZUK and the US belong. Hypothetically, even if CANZUK were to exit the US framework, how would its foreign policy aims really diverge; CANZUK would probably still be committed to the global export of liberal democracy and human rights. More of the same under a different name. 

Furthermore, it is doubtful that CANZUK would have any material influence on China. It may receive slightly more deference than the constituent nations currently do, but it is foolish to believe CANZUK would be able to stop China from internally abusing the human rights of its minorities or infringing upon Hong Kong’s sovereignty.  Any Naval blockade of Beijing would turn out far more disastrously for CANZUK than vice versa.

Rather than representing a radical new foreign policy, CANZUK appears little more than a chest-thumping exercise. An act that plays into the enduring legacy of empire deep with the English consciousness. An attempt at reviving English fantasies and national aspirations of Lady Britannia once again going forth into the world with the torch of liberty. The fact that this sort of language has been invoked by proponents of CANZUK symbolises the UK’s lack of maturity. A parochial belief in England’s god given right to engage in the great global power game. 

With our Empire no more, we have forgotten that great power comes with great responsibility – responsibilities that can quickly become burdensome. Even recent history has exposed the lack of love a foreign liberator is given and the difficulties in reconstructing a broken nation. At least under the current framework we have been able to blame those failings on the US as the senior partner in many of these endeavours. Go it alone and the buck stops with you. 

As a nation living in the shadow of past, CANZUK appears to be the UK’s last chance at reviving a cancelled future – one taken away when the empire was dismantled. However, times have changed. Where once there was genuine unity between these nations now there is only friendship, and long may we stay friends. But I personally feel no real solidarity with the nations of CANZ, nor do I recognise their culture as my own. I am European, British and English and I do not identify with an empire that disappeared before I was born. I am tired of Britain playing the false superpower and deluding ourselves of our own international importance. It is time to grow up and face reality, and I hold no desire to turbo-charge our delusions through CANZUK. Who knows maybe exiting the great power game might actually benefit us in the long run? 

CANZUK denies us that possibility and many others. Surrendering to a lost past at the first chance of going it alone was not why I voted to leave the EU. It was to define ourselves rather than be defined by others. The future is in our own hands, so let’s not abrogate control.

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