CANZUK post-brexit?

The latest delusion (just before I went away anyway) from the brexiters is something they call the CANZUK partnership. The idea being that the UK forms a trading block and a free travel zone with Canada, New Zealand and Australia. It is first of all worth noting that this is not a new idea, but its obviously been prompted more heavily since brexit happened.

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Well needless too say picking out the three mostly white parts of the British Empire and saying were going to trade with these countries and let their citizens come and go as they please, but we’re not going to do so with the likes of Malaysia, Singapore or India (larger and the UK does more trade) just stinks of racism. And given that the UK’s combined trade with CANZ countries is just 6%, against the 42% with the EU, its hardly a suitable replacement.

Furthermore, the rhetoric we heard throughout the referendum was that Britain is full we can’t take any more….yet now they are saying, nah its fine everyone’s welcome….so long as they are white and speak English. Keep in mind the stated goal of brexit is to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. That would immediately be blown if existing rates of immigration from just these three countries continued, never mind if it increased significantly (which it certainly would). And this issue of racism isn’t just an idle point, it would be illegal under UK law, trading standards, competition rules and WTO trade rules. Individuals and their governments (notably the US and the EU) who lose out aren’t going to let something like that just slide, they will challenge it.

While its true a number of high ranking politicians in Canada, NZ & Australia have expressed interest in the idea, that was either before brexit or when it looked like the UK would still be in the single market or customs union afterwards. These countries are not interested in a policy that puts them at a disadvantage in trade with the EU and the rest of the world.

As you can imagine all three will want something back from the UK in return. NZ & Australia will almost certainly want concessions on farming and fishing (screwing over the UK’s farmers & fishermen) and Canada will want something too (that we all be polite & put the bins out on time? buy more maple syrup?). In fact the main objectors to the UK’s proposed post-brexit tariffs are, you guessed it, NZ, Australia and Canada.

And its not like immigration isn’t an issue in these three countries. How would it look in Canberra, where the position of conservatives there is that Australia is full (despite having 30 times the land area of the UK and 1/3 the population), when they open the borders to millions of foreigners who can come in without any sort of limits. That’s not exactly going to go down well.

Then there’s the issue of existing trade relations with other countries. Given for example that Canada has a free trade agreement with both the US and the EU, what’s to stop an American company (or a Polish one, or a Mexican firm) just setting up an office north of the border, stamping a big maple leaf on everything and then shipping it to the UK, where it passes in tariff free with no checks whatsoever (or visa versa). Obviously the solution would be for Canada to more thoroughly check things at its borders, which the UK would also have to do (in violation of the GFA).

In other words effectively CANZUK would mean the border between the four states becomes softer, but a harder crust is needed at the boundaries of these four states. But this will no doubt fall foul of existing trade relations that all four have with their trading partners. In the UK’s case this would, as noted, be illegal under the terms of the GFA. And inevitably all of the other countries would likely face similar issues.

The reality is that CANZUK is just another slightly racist dog whistle, a way for the brexiters to give a nod and a wink to the bigot brigade. I could see them try to negotiate such a deal, but allowing those talks to fail, just so they can blame the CANZ governments for the failure (much as they’ll blame the EU for a no deal brexit). Allowing immigration to continue, but issuing border controls with a racist colour chart is just unworkable (and besides not everyone in CANZ is white, surely they’d have to be allowed in too?). And such a free trade zone would only work if the UK was willing to undertake several massive concessions first. And that means ultimately accepting that the UK will be worse off out of the EU than in.

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