Hard Brexiteers love to imagine that one day the Anglosphere will come running to reunite with the mother country.
Britain will join her Commonwealth and US offspring on a glorious adventure. The Special Relationship will scale new heights, and see the old order restored as a worldwide retro tribute act.
Unfortunately, these visions of a grand Anglo alliance are little more than delusions. Not only does it grossly overestimate the common bond between Commonwealth countries, it misreads the economic and political context and the willingness of the American, Australian and Canadian governments to strike comprehensive agreements on the timeline Brexiteers have suggested.
Brexiteers are oblivious to the political contestation that has emerged over Commonwealth countries’ ties to the mother country in the last 20 years. In Australia this has manifested itself as a protracted debate about Republicanism; the Labour Party has not supported the monarchy since 1991, and numerous senior Liberal politicians have endorsed a change as well.
In Canada, our adoption of a new flag in 1967 and the repatriation of the constitution in 1982, landmark events, were interpreted and supported as definite attempts to distance the state from a narrowly British heritage. It has long been one of the strategic aims of the Liberal Party to distance Canada from British institutions, to better integrate newcomers from other places and to assuage Quebec’s understandable scepticism of Anglophilia.
Hard Brexiteers completely misunderstand the Canadian and Australian trade context in which they wish to forge new relations. On the Canadian side, two successive governments have engaged in prolonged negotiations with the EU to deliver CETA. This even involved our foreign minister crying on television. There is little appetite to pursue another trade agreement unless it substantially replicates CETA, which is viewed as a win in Canada. Rather than building on trade success, Brexit will merely duplicate work. Canada’s major trading partner will continue to be the US. In the last round of negotiations service industries were protected; if the Canadians can fight off the Americans on this front, Great Britain will be no more successful.
In Australia, continued reliance on extraction and Chinese growth will drive economic prosperity. Gone are the days when tariff-free access to Great Britain was vital Down Under. While the need to conclude trade deals in the UK might be urgent, there is no such concern in either Australia or Canada.
Brexiteers fool themselves if they think securing a trade deal with the US – will be easy, or indeed manageable at all. As a Canadian, it has always struck me as deluded that the Brits think they have the special relationship with the United States. Our ties to America are more durable and more vital than any economic relationship the UK might hope to establish.
Yet, the US has not refrained from imposing steel tariffs, renegotiating NAFTA to Canada’s disadvantage and re-opening arbitration on forestry exports – to name but three ongoing disputes. In the new NAFTA, Canada was forced to open its agricultural markets, acquiesce to a 15-year time limit and allow the US to review other trade agreements Canada sought to establish. As one Canadian trade official put it to me: “the Americans are bastards.”
The idea the same fate would not befall the United Kingdom is simply farcical.
Australia, Canada and the United States have moved on. Far from being the saviours of the Brexit cause, they may come to reveal its ultimate hollowness, and that the Empire to which the Brexiteers so often allude is well and truly dead.
Connor MacDonald this year graduated from Cambridge and was the first chairman of its Conservative Association to be wholly previously educated in Canada.