Friday 22 September 2017

A Brexit Analogy

Britain would be a lot more fun at parties if, after her third drink, she didn't start mumbling about how awesome the Empire was. Not for the first time, current events have reminded me of this.

Britannia rules no more.

A new campaigning group has a rather curious approach to Brexit. Here is an analogy for their idea:

Jane Smith has three adult children. All of them moved out some time ago, and have homes, jobs, and partners of their own. For many years, Jane had a job in the planning department of the local council. It was a bit dull and bureaucratic, and occasionally frustrating; but it was steady work in comfortable surroundings, which provided her with a good income.

One day in June 2016, she declared that she needed to find herself, and quit her job. She had no evident plan for what to do next. Instead she hung around the house, watching a lot of daytime television. She had many vague declarations about magnificent things she would do with her new-found freedom, but few concrete plans.

Now she calls together her grown-up children, and tells them her brilliant idea: She's going to start a new business, making and selling innovative jams and marmalades! And her children will help her!

The children politely point out that they already have jobs, homes, and partners. They wish their mum well, but their free time for helping her out is going to be very limited.

Jane does not understand. Aren't they a family? Don't they love her? She starts crying and saying her children don't appreciate her, but will surely see the error of their ways soon.

At this point, the children might gently suggest that she needs a therapist more than a jam-making business.

The background to the above analogy is a group calling itself "Canzuk". The name is not a type of Ukrainian soft cheese, but an abbreviation for "Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom." Maybe you can see where this is going.

Canzuk declare that a solution for the many problems of Brexit is to renew ties between the UK and some of its old colonial possessions.

Not all of them are of interest to our intrepid Brexiteers. Anywhere in Asia, Africa or the Caribbean is not sufficiently white. Ireland is staying in the European Union, so as in times past the Irish are beyond the pale. The USA is not forgiven for fighting a war to throw off British rule, and anyway it's too big for the UK to push around. That leaves Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the source of their catchy name.

They're going to help out the mother country in her hour of need, right?

Not so much. I confidently expect the respective governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand will look on this initiative with polite bafflement. (Canzuk does not represent the British government, but the likes of Liam Fox have been more than happy to talk up trade deals with the likes of New Zealand, as one of the desperate necessities wonderful opportunites of Brexit.)

On a personal level, I was born in Canada, but I have one British parent and have lived in the UK for more than 25 years. You'd have to look long and hard to find a Canadian with more affection for the UK than I have. Even I think the idea is ridiculous.

Not only that, it's more than a little desperate. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined have 65 million people and 3% of UK goods exports. The EU27 has 678 million people and 47% of UK goods exports. The notion that gains in trade with the former will make up for loss in trade with the latter is fanciful.

If all the UK wants is a free trade agreement similar to the one being concluded between Canada and the EU, I'm sure these countries will be happy to oblige in due course. But some sort of closer relationship like a customs union, single market, or the like would impact on existing arrangements, not least Canada's membership of NAFTA.

As for free movement, I wonder if Canzuk have really thought this through. The UK already has a problem with nurses and other health professionals departing for better working conditions in places like Australia. Their plan implies the UK would have to start paying NHS staff a lot better. I'm not sure that's what Brexiteers of the hard-right, free-market persuasion had in mind.

All things considered, the notion that Canada, Australia, or New Zealand will inconvenience themselves out of some sentimental attachment to Britain is absurd. Colonial rule was over and done with more than a hundred years ago for all three of us, and we have no wish to go back to it. We are modern nations with our own concerns; and many of us are not British by ancestry, but rather Irish, French, eastern European, Asian, African, or of some other background.

If an invading army menaced British shores it might be a different matter, but Brexit is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. One way or another, the UK will have to get through it on its own.

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