The Boris Johnson-led Brexit campaign, according to naysayers such as Nick Clegg, is based on “a sentimental, nostalgic vision of Britannia, proud and independent, ruling the waves once again.” Clegg has it entirely wrong. Enlightened patriotism is sweeping the world, from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s post-Muslim Brotherhood Egypt to Germany’s freedomist AfD movement. If the people of the United Kingdom were to declare unilateral independence from Euroland on June 23 they would find themselves on the cutting edge of contemporary political evolution.
It is the transnationalists, the Brussels-based bureaucrats, the anti-Zionists in the United Nations and so on, who are regressive and on the wrong side of history. Barack Obama, oblivious to the fact that his globalist rhetoric, which includes everything from open borders and lax immigration, has ignited a populist firestorm in his country. Every multilateral arrangement Washington has entered into is now under enormous scrutiny in America.
Obama insists that no “special relationship” between Washington and London would be resurrected by the UK reclaiming its full sovereignty, and that Britain could have more clout on the world stage if it remained a leading member of the European Union. But the first post-American president in the history of the United States – the son of a Kenyan who lived under British Imperial rule, and could not conceal his contempt for Britain at his press conference on April 22 – would say that, wouldn’t he?
From an Australian perspective, at least, the UK independence would open up all kinds of opportunities that have lain dormant since EEC membership in 1973. A rekindled relationship with countries like Australia, contraire Nick Clegg, would have less to do with “nostalgia” for Empire than a pragmatic and mutually advantageous entente – to borrow the language of Vatican II – between “separated brethren”.
The new association could match the Trans Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTA) that Australia and New Zealand already share. The TTA enables the citizens of the two antipodean nations to travel and work in the neighbouring country without compromising the sovereignty of either. Out of a population of 4.5 million people some 600,000 New Zealanders live and work in Australia. They pay Australian taxes and have the right to remain here as long as they do not break the law. On the other hand, not all government services are available to them as non-citizens – for instance, student loans – and Australian citizenship itself is out of the question for a Kiwi here on a TTA, as is New Zealand citizenship for an Aussie working in the Land of the Long White Cloud on a TTA.
The upside of the TTA, however, is that no New Zealander working in Australia or vice versa need go through the heartache Australian teacher Sally Roycroft experienced when her career as an educator in London was cut short because she possessed an Australian passport, rather than an EU one. The Roycroft case is pertinent because none other than Boris Johnson highlighted it in his 2013 visit to Australia (see The Salisbury Review, Winter 2013). Roycroft’s difficulty, lamented Johnson, was the “infamous consequence” of the UK joining the EEC: “We betrayed our relationship with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand, and entered into preferential trading arrangements with what was then the European Economic Community.”
A Free Labour Mobility Zone between the UK and Australia – or between the UK and any country it chose to establish such an arrangement – would not be a case of Britannia “ruling the waves again”. It is true that during Australia’s first nationalist era, which resulted in the established of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, the Mother Country retained certain prerogatives. Not until the Statute of Westminster in 1931 did the Parliament of the United Kingdom officially renounce the right to hold sway over Commonwealth or Dominion realms. And only in 1936 did Australia establish its own independent diplomatic corps and the United Kingdom appoint its first High Commissioner to Canberra; autonomous diplomatic relations between Australia and the United States ensued shortly thereafter.
Late nineteenth century Australian nationalism was, for the most, not anti-British at all; second wave nationalism, with its origins in the 1960s and emphasis on Australia becoming a republic, represented an entirely different phenomenon. Art that exhibited an anti-British sentiment of any kind – for instance, films such as Breaker Morant (1980) and Gallipoli (1981) – was deemed to represent a win for national pride. For almost four decades leftist-progressives insisted that Australia could only be truly free and self-governing if the Governor-General, who is now always an Australian, was replaced by a president who would always be, well, an Australian. The Republican campaign crashed and burned at the 1999 referendum when the majority of Australians voted to preserve the status quo.
To this very day Australian-style republicans mourn the fact that their side of the argument was undermined by a fatal division between the minimalists, who sought a presidential head of state selected by the Australian Parliament, and maximalists, who demanded a popularly elected presidency. Inevitably, perhaps, out of the defeat of anti-British and republic-driven nationalism has gradually emerged a new kind of Australian nationalism. It is a patriotism that does not hanker for the restoration of the British Empire yet appears cognisant of the reality, as outlined by Daniel Hannan’s Inventing Freedom: How the English-speaking Peoples Made the Modern World (2013), that Australia’s version of constitutional monarchy is not something to be lightly abandoned. It is our protection, as it is amongst all the sovereign counties of the Anglosphere, including India, Singapore and Canada, against the great perils of the day.
Hannan’s central thesis is that the EU (and transnational governance in general) might recognise in theory the primacy of the rule of law, democratic government and individual liberty but in practice is quite ready to “subordinate all three to political imperatives”. While President Obama has asserted to the British public that “collective action” (that is to say, remaining in the EU) would better serve the people of the UK, Hannan’s conclusion points in the opposite direction. It is enlightened patriotism in conjunction with national self-determination and Westminster-inspired governance that offers humanity the best chance of safeguarding the most endangered minority of all – the sovereign individual.
The sovereign individual is currently under threat by modern-day tribalism, from Islamists and Islamic terrorists to bohemian socialists who despise patriotism and are obsessed by identity politics and internationalism. David Cameron strikes me as the kind of fellow whose heart might be in the right place but can never quite see to the heart of the matter. He is invariably undone by his quest to triangulate, to find a middle ground between two opposing and irreconcilable positions. Thus, the self-defined “liberal conservative” was forced to admit British membership of the EU is problematic but then, after negotiating a bogus “middle ground” with Brussels, ends up leading the “Remain” campaign. To compromise, in some situations, is to be compromised.
F.A. Hayek’s 1960 essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative” continues to be contentious. But leaving aside the issue of whether Hayek was or was not a conservative himself, his admonition against a certain type of conservatism still has relevance: “It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its choosing.” I can think of no more appropriate characterisation of David Cameron’s attitude to Britain’s role in the EU.
Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama spoke together in London on April 22. It was Earth Day 2016. The American president insisted that the UK’s power was “amplified” by its membership of the EU and warned it would go to the “back of the queue” in terms of a trade deal with Washington if it went out on its own. Cameron subsequently implored his own countrymen to “listen to advice from friends”. It was left to Boris Johnson to point out the obvious: “We don’t have a trade deal with the US at the moment and we have been in the EU for 43 years.” Australia, formerly a colonial outpost of the British Empire but now a fully sovereign nation, entered into the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) on January 1, 2005.
Daryl McCann blogs at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au/