Today is the day. Article 50 has been triggered, and in the words of Margaret Thatcher we should rejoice. It is good to reflect on how far we have been come and be thankful to the wisdom of the British people and those who crusaded for British independence. Though there are too many to name, thanks are in order for (in no particular order) Daniel Hannan, Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart, Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, John Redwood, Theresa Villiers, David Davis and countless others. For more complete list of who to thank on this day, both Conservative Home and Brexit Central provided lists of individuals and organisations to credit.
Though we rightly revel in our Brexit victory, we must remember that leaving the European Union is a battle not a war. Brexit is a means and not an end. Fundamentally, what Brexit does is hand back power to the British people that their representatives gave away. Brexit is not a vision of what Britain or the world should look like, it is giving the British people back the right to mold that vision.
Last year, I wrote of what I hope to see the post-Brexit United Kingdom end up looking like. Today, however, we focus on forming a vision of the post-Brexit international order.
Many people falsely view Brexit in terms of a nationalist versus globalist debate. In the thinking of many, Brexit represents the triumph of “populist” nationalism over the more “enlightened” internationalism seen in the EU.
Opponents of Brexit will rightly point out that nationalism and close borders are historically a recipe for a powder keg. Both world wars were caused by nationalist interests- specifically Germany’s desire to take over their weaker neighbours. However, the 20th century’s world wars are not the only examples of nationalism and conflict between nations with close borders going to war with each other. One need look no further than the historical relationship between England and France or the current relationship between the Koreas or the People’s Republic and Republic (Taiwan) of China today to see that close borders and competing interests are dangerous. Thus, even though most of us (rightly) laughed off hysterical claims of a third world war when Cameron talked of it, there can be no doubt that contentious borders are never good- in modern terms the “conflict” is usually economic. Contrary to the beliefs of some nationalists, (often found in UKIP), Theresa May is right to want good relations with the EU and not openly wish for its demise- even if its demise is inevitable as many believe.
With that being said, what the opponents of Brexit miss is that internationalist, or “supranational” institutions are by themselves no guarantors of peace either. As peaceful as Pax Romana may have been at certain points, the collapse of the Roman Empire brought upon the Dark Ages- ending the Classical advancements to humanity that began in the city states of Greece- for 1,000 years. The USSR and its empire held peace inside its borders for a time, but it was a brutal unlivable peace, to say nothing of the war they spread beyond their borders. Though the EU is no USSR or even Roman Empire, its large, undemocratic institutions have brought misery to many, especially those in the south of the continent, but unlike when there is poverty in nation states, the people have found themselves powerless to get the EU to respond to their pleas for help due to the EU’s inherently undemocratic nature. Masses of unemployed working and fighting age men has traditionally not been considered a recipe for peace and harmony– and Britain rightly made the decision to move away from this supranational institution.
Both nationalism and supranationalism are unattractive options for the United Kingdom. However, there is a third option that the United Kingdom should embrace wholeheartedly- the Churchillian option i.e. the Commonwealth option.
At the conclusion of the second World War, Churchill became a proponent for the free world being organised into three “majestic circles“- the American dominated circle, the European (or “United States of Europe”) circle and the circle of the British Commonwealth and Empire. He believed these three circles could ensure stability, expand the scope of the free world, and most importantly maintain the peace. After the war, two of the majestic circles, the American and European circles, bloomed and grew but the Commonwealth circle stagnated and largely went dormant as the empire disappeared. Britain did not go away, it did fulfill Churchill’s wish to be a bridge between the US and Europe, but it largely abdicated its responsibilities to its Commonwealth friends and allies when it joined the EEC in 1973.
The world has changed significantly since 1973 and with Brexit, Britain has an opportunity to shape the 21st century international relations and the free world, with the rebuilding of the Commonwealth majestic circle. Previously, I and others have written of the economic benefits of the Commonwealth and how it, along with including the America in the Anglosphere, provides an economic security blanket and spring board to the UK economically becoming “global Britain”. That is undoubtedly true, as the Commonwealth is now a larger economy than the EU and the US is the world’s largest economy. However, a Commonwealth majestic circle would not simply be about economics.
Currently, the American and European majestic circles are experiencing a lot of problems. The European Union is undemocratic and has been going through a series of crises and the United States’s political system is being ravaged by toxic anger and division. Both the US and the EU appear to be losing their vision and are increasingly looking insular to deal with their problems. The world needs the third circle to counterbalance emerging forces from the “un-free” world in the forms of China, Russia, and Islamic fundamentalism.
In the Commonwealth there is the potential for a third and most modern of majestic circles. Unlike the US and the EU, which are large regional blocs, the Commonwealth circle contains all the world’s continents (if you include South Georgia, this even includes Antarctica). However, unlike the US and EU, an active Commonwealth could provide an example for twenty-first century co-operation, based not on a central capital decreeing orders from on high, but from treaties and shared initiatives done when they are implemented by states because they are good ideas. Take for example the CANZUK nations (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom). Because the “CANZ” and UK have roughly the same population size, living standards, and shared heritage, they could all agree to free movement of labour. Other Commonwealth nations could agree to joint research projects, such as with India or Singapore, or others could agree to grand free trade deals such as the C9 deal I proposed between the UK, Canada, Singapore, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Nigeria. With shared institutions, such as having the figurehead of the Queen, the competition of the Commonwealth games, as well as the biennial meeting of leaders, the Commonwealth could become a shining light to the world on how to conduct and engage in international relations.
The Commonwealth members would all move at their own speed of integration with each other, but will always commit to peace with one another and be in control of their own destines. The Commonwealth could also be a vehicle for encouraging its members to adopt greater protections for human rights and the Commonwealth nations would be allies with each other. The emergence of the majestic circle of the Commonwealth would provide a model for not only the free world, but help maintain and expand peace throughout the globe. The Commonwealth would also continue its policy of being open to new members- The Gambia is about to rejoin, and Rwanda and Mozambique joined despite never being British colonies.
The mission of making the Commonwealth the globe’s third majestic circle should be at the heart of a foreign policy for post-Brexit Britain. Britain of course should not abandon its friendship with the US and EU, and should seek to trade with them as freely as possible, but it should, as it always has, turn its gaze to the world. There is a leadership vacuum in the world at the moment- Britain and its Commonwealth friends should work to fill it.