10 June 2024


The Carlton Club, London


As any battlefield pilgrim would tell, there have been no closer comrades-in-arms than the soldiers of Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

When the Great War broke out, the three dominions all pledged to stand behind the mother country, in Australia’s case, to the last man and the last shilling.

Four Canadian, five Australian, and one New Zealand division became the shock troops of the British army and generals John Monash and Arthur Currie were among the war’s most acclaimed commanders.

67,000 Canadians, 60,000 Australians, and 16,000 New Zealanders (along with nearly 900,000 Britons) proved-with-their-lives their countries’ devotion to king and empire and their readiness to defend freedom in far away lands.

It was much the same two decades on: Canadians took Juno Beach on D-Day, New Zealanders fought their way up the boot of Italy, and the Ninth Australian Division helped to win the great battle at E Alamein which was the “end of the beginning” for the Axis powers.

And in Korea, Britons, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders (with Indians) all fought as part of the British Commonwealth Division. 

A lot’s changed since then.

Britain gave up its overseas empire and eventually joined the European Union.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand sought security in their own regions and focussed on trade with their neighbours.

French Canada became more restive, Australia a multi-ethnic society, and New Zealand more of a partnership between its settler and indigenous peoples.

Yet 80 years after the last world war and 75 years after the old empire became the new Commonwealth, with cosy imperial conferences turned diverse and contentious gatherings, there’s no more like-minded group than the CANZUK countries.

Britons, Canadians, Aussies and Kiwis never feel like strangers in each others’ land.

In part, because we all face similar challenges: preserving national unity in the face of identity politics; boosting productivity in the face unconditional welfare; getting immigration under control; putting rigour back into education systems; plus working out how close we should be to the great English-speaking hegemon, the United States.

And since the last burst of Crown Commonwealth enthusiasm, early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the tyranny of distance, that once sundered the CANZUK countries, has all-but-dissolved thanks to mass air travel and instantaneous communications.

As well, in a suddenly much more dangerous and more competitive world, countries with a common language, history, culture, and mental universe are more mindful of sticking together instead of taking each other for granted.

In fact, the formal and informal ties between the CANZUK countries could hardly be stronger.

For more than 70 years, we’ve all been part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangements with the United States, the world’s most intimate security partnership.

For two decades now, Australia and New Zealand have been Indo-Pacific security partners with the NATO alliance, that includes Britain and Canada, as well as the US.

In that capacity, Australians and New Zealanders served with British and Canadian troops (and Americans) in Afghanistan. 

Australia, New Zealand and Canada are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade area, that now, in a coup for Global Britain, also includes the post-Brexit United Kingdom.

The economic partnerships that Brexit Britain has recently struck with Australia and with New Zealand, in terms of eliminating tariffs and quotas on goods, encouraging trade in services, and facilitating the movement of people for well-paid work not welfare, are are the most liberal in the world; other than the one that Australia has long had with our Trans-Tasman partner.

And in one of the most important geo-political developments in decades, Australia has joined with Britain and the US, not just finally to give Australia nuclear-powered submarines, but to re-engage Britain in the defence of East Asia, and also to create a unified defence industrial system without national distinctions – much as Canada and the US have largely had for years.

This second tier of AUKUS is already becoming JAUKUS (with Japan), and could soon become CAUKUS with Canada and ultimately JANZUKUSC (with New Zealand).

Just recently, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all under centre-left governments, adopted a common position at the UN over Palestine, albeit one slightly at odds with that of Britain and America, in yet another sign of how readily our countries can work together as natural partners.

Thanks largely to the Pax Americana, until very recently, the world had never been more free, more safe, more fair, and more rich.

But that’s now under increasing pressure from militarist, communist and Islamist dictatorships – Moscow, Beijing and Tehran working together in a loose alliance-of-convenience to reshape the world to resemble America less, and China and the Middle East more.

The best way to meet this challenge is through deterrence based on strength.

The larger and stronger the democratic partnership, the less likely it is that the dictatorships might risk another opportunistic war.

America has long been the world’s policeman, but is now a weary titan sick of forever wars.

And the EU paper tiger is no substitute because 27 separate and diverse countries, united only by geography and bureaucracy, are unlikely ever to agree on anything quickly.

It’s because the EU can’t agree an approach to illegal migrants, that the continent is now subject to what amounts to a form of peaceful invasion – much of which ends up here in Britain.

America’s strongest and most reliable allies have always been Britain and Australia.

So stronger security links between Britain and Australia, with Canada and New Zealand, should help America.

A stronger CANZUK could discourage America’s current isolationist tendencies.

And if America does become more isolationist, CANZUK could help at least partially to fill that void.

Potentially, Britain could even offer nuclear reassurance should America’s protections wane.

In some ways, Britain is an easier security partner than America, because it doesn’t totally dominate the partnership. 

Certainly, given that we are all countries under the Crown, so hardly foreign to each other, save in a narrow legal way, it would make sense to deepen cooperation at every level.

Given the way Britons’ work ethic seems to improve in Australia, and vice versa, there could be a CANZUK labour mobility arrangement, perhaps initially for graduates and tradies under 30.

Given that all the CANZUK countries are now in the TPP, why not build on that by making all trade between them tariff and quota free?

Why not work towards mutual recognition of trade and professional qualifications?

And why not, perhaps on the margins of NATO, or the G20, an annual CANZUK leaders summit?

A bit like the meeting that David Cameron, Stephen Harper, John Key and I did have in Brisbane at the G20 in 2014, although given the extent of the like-mindedness, it was a very convivial and informal summit!

As the strong and close bonds between John Howard and Tony Blair, and between Howard and Helen Clark showed, CANZUK leaders don’t have to be political soul mates to find much common ground even on difficult issues.

Britain is the world’s sixth largest economy; Canada the ninth; and Australia the twelfth.

Added together, the CANZUK countries have a GDP of $7 trillion, far larger than the economies of all other countries save the US and China, plus a population of some 140 million.

Not for a second, am I suggesting formal legal ties, akin to those of the EU; but as a Network of Nations I reckon that the CANZUK community could coordinate at least as cohesively as the European one, given the commonality of interests and values.

This wouldn’t be nostalgic recreation of the old Empire or even the closer Commonwealth of the 1950s.

All our countries have changed unimaginably since then, especially with immigration from the four corners of the earth.

What hasn’t changed, and what should never change, is a commitment to parliamentary democracy, freedom under the law, and a shared Crown symbolising government as an act of duty and service.

As John Howard often said, countries don’t have to choose between their history and their geography.

Or as I put it, you don’t have to lose old friends to make new ones.

As Burke observed, when the bad combine, the good must associate, else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

Does anyone think there are countries more free, more fair and with more opportunity to get ahead than than the CANZUKs?

Does anyone doubt that freedom, fairness and a measure of economic opportunity are the universal aspirations of mankind?

There could be no nobler mission for the CANZUK countries than to work ever more closely together to advance what humanity yearns for.

As the world’s most successful multi-cultural societies, we should not let sensitivities about an old “white commonwealth” stop us, as nations, from being our best selves.