In the post-Brexit era, London needs to adapt rapidly to a global economic world which will tend to favor big players like the United States, the EU bloc and emerging powers like China and India. The solution to these future challenges seems to lie in the folds of English history, the question is: will Westminster be able to carry on its project or is it pursuing an unrealistic neo-imperial dream?
HISTORICALLY ON ITS OWN
The marriage between UK and UE has ended eventually, with the Brexit referendum hold in 2016 and the final documents signed in 2020, London has broken a difficult relationship with the continental part of Europe, its Institutions and community project.
The reasons for the Leave victory over the Remain are several: some of them were economic, others can be found within the psychological roots of an island which has been able to create one of the largest empires and it has also managed to implant anthropological clones (e.g. Canada, Australia) around the four corners of the planet. This because United Kingdom has historically perceived its existence deeply connected to the maritime trades. Since the end of the Hundred Years War, England has focused its efforts on the creation of its own sphere, more precisely: an Anglo-sphere.
It is no surprise why some lawmakers are now taking inspiration from the past in order to draw a new path for Westminster. The result seems to shape a future trans-continental union named CANZUK: an economic, military, juridical and political federation among the anglophone states of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.
AN IDEA FROM A PAST FUTURE
Labeled as panacea of post-Brexit and the return of a glorious path, CANZUK is not something new. Its origins take back from the end of XIX century, when it was proposed the formation of an Imperial Federation among the entire Dominions and colonies of the British Empire.
The plan included a creation of a central parliamentary authority which would have dealt with internal trades, foreign relations and defense. This would have been the answer to emerging competitors such as the United States or German Reich; and also as an alternative to colonial imperialism by replacing it with the idea of a Civilization State and its sociopolitical model.
The proposal failed to gain majority and it was abandoned with the beginning of decolonization. In 1967, the idea was resumed by the New Zealand historian William D. McIntyre who firstly coined the name CANZUK as a sort of Confederation between UK and its Dominions, which would have saved the best of the Empire, its thalassocracy and its economic principle of free trade.
Even in this case the idea didn’t take roots and for more than 60 years the plan for a trans-continental state founded on historical, cultural and sociological unity was discarded. Now, the idea of Civilization State is resurging and it is merging in the realm of geopolitical relations.
States like China, Russia, Turkey and India are emphasizing their own idea of Civilization States by stressing in a broad geographic region their cultural and socio-anthropological unity, capable of distinguishing itself from the decadent western liberal order. It is in this new path that London is going to pursue its CANZUK union in the following years thanks to several common roots.
A MIGTHY SHARED DESTINY
The first supporting element is a mutual public opinion for a greater integration. The latest survey (2018) saw 73% of Australians, 76% of Canadians, 68% of British and 82% of New Zealanders in favor. Regional pollings, conducted to examine local feelings, have witnessed a significant 83% in North Island of New Zealand, 82% in British Columbia and 79% in New South Wales.
This would show how this project rests on a concrete collective vision and heritage. The Queen is in fact the head of state in all three former Dominions, which base their legal system on a similar structure: the Common Law. Also all of them share a collective history of three centuries and the participation on the same side in two world wars, from which they came out victorious.
Furthermore the involved countries are part of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance along with US as joint cooperation treaty on signal intelligence. This would virtually provide an immense source of information, which would add greater political and diplomatic weight to CANZUK, equipping the new state to compete not only with its old enemies, but also with the most closed ally.
If all four countries united tomorrow, they would have a combined population of over 136 million of people with a GDP of 6,3 trillion of dollars, thus becoming the 4th largest economy behind China, and with a defense budget of more than 100 billion dollars (the 3rd largest). In particular the combined naval forces would result to more than 130 vessels and, due to recent development plans for the Royal Navy, it will be likely possible a further expansion in order to operate globally.
A PAPER TIGER?
With this reasoning we can understand why the (re)imagining of an neo-Imperial Federation has come under political discussion after Brexit. London needs new trade deals and new alliances in order to succeed in the following decades. Still there are ambiguous point about its feasibility like having a comprehensive strategy, a coordinated development plan and distance.
Despite the combined diplomatic, economic and military capabilities would make the new superstate a powerful actor, CANZUK must to synchronize its resources to face global challenges. Three out of four members are islands and two of them are placed at the edge of the world. Despite flights and internet communications have cut the distance these members heavily rely on sea trades.
London will need to plan carefully logistic, economy and national defense, if it wants to create a prosperous state. However this means that all countries will have to cede part of their sovereignty in order to have a coordinated system. Since the four states have distinctive political and economic realities, exports / imports should be reoriented to maximize the GDP through reforms and new economic agreements. An operation which might prove to be costly for local products / production.
Furthermore CANZUK would give the possibility for a transcontinental labor force of millions of people to move freely within the national territory. However, this could imply the beginning of mass movements towards richer regions. London would find itself forced to regulate internal flows to avoid economic imbalances, but this would contradict one of its cardinal principle: the freedom of movement of goods and people.
On a security level CANZUK is going to face several problems both from enemies and allies. The new Transcontinental block would have to face Russia in the Arctic region and a growing China in Asia-pacific seas. Westminster will need a centralized defense command, but this would mean for the other countries to cede additional layers of sovereignty for a collective security.
Furthermore, it is not certain that the US welcomes the formation of an Anglo-sphere too close to its borders. This would mean a loosening of its influence over Canada, which is currently absolute on all levels (economic, military, strategic). Moreover, before the navy has a sufficient number of units to intervene globally, London will initially have to rely on American fleets in order to protect its trade, making it virtually dependent on Washington, albeit for a short period.
Finally, there is the risk to overlap many supranational structures. In addition to the aforementioned Five Eyes, CANZUK would have to compete with the ABCANZ Armies (i.e. the program aimed to maximize the interoperability of American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Armed Forces) and the very recent AUKUS.
If Westminster wants to create a future transcontinental federation, it will have to choose whether to create a superstate on the basis of that European federalist model, from which it fled, or to build a union economically powerful on paper but heavily dependent on Washington for its defense. It could be also possible that United Kingdom aims for a Confederate structure where London would have control of the defense, leaving economic development to its individual members.
Whatever territorial structure the future new transnational entity will assume, it is undeniable that UK will move more towards its Anglo-sphere by reconnecting old ties, strengthening existing ones and connecting with strategic partners . An example is the recent free trade agreement (2021) between Australia and the UK, which aims to eliminate duties on a wide range of products.
Similar, it is the London’s proposal to become the 12th member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an economic-trade agreement which includes, in addition to the three CANZUK members, eight countries from Asia-Pacific region.
It is clear that the British perceive the Anglo-sphere as an entity geographically distant to the European continent and with an identity similar to the Old Britain. Winston Churchill, despite being a convinced pro-European, was also lucid enough to say: “If we are forced to choose between Europe and the open sea, we Brits will always choose the open sea”, a sentence which seems to have seen well in the mist of geopolitics.