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In recent days, talk dismissing the Government’s attempts at building post-Brexit relationships has been rife. The appointment of Tony Abbott, former Australian Prime Minister, is to become the UK government’s post-Brexit trade adviser and the election of Erin O’Toole as Leader of the Conservative Party in Canada has increased the salience of CANZUK – a proposed economic and trade alliance between Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Proponents of CANZUK also advocate for freer immigration, given that these countries have similar levels of GDP per capita but also a wide variety of industries and sectors.

Critics argue CANZUK is a fantasy, dreamt up by the right to avoid the path of nationalist hinterland, but also European integration. Moreover, the left see CANZUK and its proponents as being short of ideas. The choice of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a trade adviser has provoked outrage from the Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry, who blasted him as an “offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist”. 

That may be only one instance, but the overall message remains the same. Among liberal conservatives, advocacy and interest appears to be less strong. However, the black-and-white interpretation of CANZUK as being an unrealistic fantasy versus a potential world superpower is clearly misguided. 

The mainstream argument for CANZUK couldn’t be clearer: the UK needs to participate in more values-based partnerships and alliances. This shouldn’t be limited to NATO or the EU, but should look wider, towards countries that share the same legal system and language as the UK. The concept of ‘values-based’ partnerships and trade in terms of CANZUK was first coined by Erin O’Toole, during the leadership election of the Conservative Party of Canada.

There, he emphasised the challenges that the UK faces and how they are similar to those that Canada faces. O’Toole made clear that embracing CANZUK was, by no means, shutting oneself off from the rest of the world, but instead demonstrating an active interest in pursuing certain values. When it comes to negotiations and relations between countries like China, there are clearly questions, especially on the right, about what the Chinese government represents and the geopolitics of trading relations. 

In fact, many have proposed CANZUK as being an alternative or a united front against countries like China. This was demonstrated when all four countries, in response to the Hong Kong National Security Law, suspended their extradition agreements, with some countries hinting at routes out of Hong Kong. Many advocates argued that this demonstration of ‘solidarity’ was the start of a newer alliance between the four countries in favour of democratic values.

This, however, is a misconceived notion. If anything, proposals of more relaxed immigration between these countries are not an attempt to wall them off from the rest of the world, however disagreeable their politics may be. A CANZUK proposal would, in fact, promote more values-based trade and emphasise the importance of democratic values, a fair judiciary, and common law in these countries. 

CANZUK is not a nationalist project like the EU and allows each country to pursue their individual policies and positions. For example, Britain with its nuclear umbrella can still trade and make alliances with anti-nuclear New Zealand, despite their vastly different positions on this issue. This is an example of how countries with a shared history, a shared monarch, and a shared legal system, among others, can put one another first and demonstrate the importance of those values whilst still pursuing vastly different domestic policies.

Christopher is currently undertaking work experience at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.

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