The subject of Brexit and the European Union offers an enormous opportunity for the U.K. and Commonwealth, despite the obvious anxiety of a country having to renegotiate its trading relationships.
That Britain is leaving the European Union is an odd thing for the former greatest colonial power in the world. The irony is that when the Empire was unwound after World War II, British bureaucrats had to devolve dozens of colonial power relationships that it ruled. Today, the Brussels boot is on the other foot, as Britain seeks to extricate itself from its unwittingly gained colonial master, Brussels.
Britain took the devolution of power seriously in its colonial realm. It most cases, Britain left with dignity, and in many cases, and quite archaically, kept the Queen as head of state. In the case of Israel, it turned over the future of Palestine to the United Nations. The U.S., when it left the Philippines and Panama Canal Zone, also turned over power in a dignified way. This is a practical matter; if you want good future relationships with that former colonial power, you devolve power in a clean, elegant, and respectful way. This precedent was set by Lord Mountbatten, who when faced with the prospect of losing India, sent them to independence with great dignity. Brussels would do well to understand this, as Britain will forever be located next Europe.
After Britain joined the Common Market and then European Union, it steadily sidelined and wound down its historically close relations with Commonwealth countries. Countries were pushed out of the Empire by the end, and non-English speaking, non-Empire immigrants from Europe and the Middle East took precedence over Commonwealth citizens; this made no sense as former Colonial subjects had a harder time working in the U.K. than Europeans with no cultural interest or ties to the U.K. Those close ties remained, and are being renewed ever so slightly.
There are enormous possibilities in this revised lineup. The U.K.’s sister Commonwealth countries where the head of state is Queen Elizabeth, countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Bahamas, are a trading block of very powerful democratic countries that would far eclipse any opportunities within the U.K. And then there is the larger Commonwealth, where places like India, Nigeria, and dozens of other countries share cultural, trade and historic ties.
After Brexit, the idea of the Anglosphere has surfaced, with the possibility of revived CANZUK ties and adding in the U.S. Australian Gareth Evans wrote negatively about the Anglosphere, not that he was against it, just that he didn’t find it workable. The former Australian foreign minister missed a point, though. The Anglosphere exists separate from political structures and indeed supersedes politics. People and private institutions make the Anglosphere, united by language, custom, law and shared Judeo-Christian values. Virginian James C. Bennett has promoted this idea; his Anglosphere has echoes not in an all powerful Roman or Ottoman-Turk empire, but in the Hanseatic League, an asymetric trading bloc that existed in the Middle Ages.
Perhaps there are different options. Places like Gibraltar, which prefer to remain part of the U.K. but would have liked to stay in the E.U., are a special case. Can there be an E.U. relationship there? In Cyprus, the two British Cyprus territories of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, military relics of the Cyprus cease fire, use the Euro, even though they are strongly part of the U.K.
As Brexit is debated, there are charming and useful anachronisms that create layers of protection against tyrannical actions by governments inside and out of the U.K., a sort of checks and balances system officiated by the Crown and other countries, and enacted by elected governments, the military, treaty organizations and banking systems.
These anachronisms can be made useful, especially in an era of Venezuelan despots, overreaching tax regimes and raw Chinese imperialism. The many different territories and jurisdictions of the Caribbean and U.S. offer interesting ways that countries share ideas of affiliation and nationality. For instance, for the purpose of the Olympics, territories of the U.S. like Puerto Rico compete as separate countries, even though Puerto Rico is very much part of the U.S.A. Puerto Rico is also a member of the King of Spain’s Organización de Estates Iberoamericanos.
Meanwhile, many countries like the Philippines and Japan operate as protectorates, where the former colonial or wartime power barely possesses a sort of external control but does not rule. Unfortunately, China is exercising colonial power across the globe; even Hong Kong did not join the Commonwealth after the sad handover of 1997.
Understanding and appreciating these realities and structures requires a sort of acceptance of a bit of cognitive dissonance, though most of us will call it ambiguity. Boors call it useless.
Some societies take everything too literally; others take nothing literally and lie to themselves.
Let us remind ourselves of the varied political agencies of these exclaves, many of which are complex and rely upon semantics to define what is happening, not happening, or pretending to be happening.
- Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos: This organization, literally the Organization of Ibero-American States, is a gathering of former Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Less formal than the British Commonwealth, King Felipe VI leads this group. Because of its inert and innocuous nature, it could also offer cultural or trade ties that could soften Brexit issues in Gibraltar, where trade with Spain is an issue, and Puerto Rico, where the economy is suffering. King Felipe caused a sensation in evangelical communities this month with his declaration that “because we need to be honest and respectful to both our common Judeo-Christian values and origins.” That Puerto Rico is a member of an organization with the King of Spain at its head in the 21st century is a delightful anachronism; that Felipe is also still titled King of Jerusalem is a fascinating anachronism.
- Crown Dependencies: In Europe, the Isle of Man and Jersey are Crown Dependencies, which means they are not part of the U.K., nor are they in the Commonwealth of Nations. They are instead part of the Crown, though Her Majesty is Lord of Mann, in her role as Queen. They do not, however, use the Royal Mail, but instead have the Isle of Man Post Office.
- U.S. Compact Countries: In the Pacific, the former U.S. Marshall Islands are fully independent but in a Compact of Free Association that shares agencies of the U.S. government. This sort of arrangement offers the best of both worlds; security for an independent country and mutually beneficial relationships that tear down barriers.
- Overseas Collectivities of St. Pierre & Miquelon: These two islands off of the coast of Newfoundland, Canada are still part of France, a delightful 18th century concession of the Treaty of Paris. The French citizens of the islands use the Euro, and have E.U. passports, but are not part of the E.U. Happily, they were saved after the The islands are small, and have no easy borders with the outside world. But the reality is that they have separate rules regarding visits; ie you are entering France and the EU when you arrive at the island. But in reality, they do something different. The issue is also sort of moot, as there is no direct transport connection between France and the islands, so all transit has to come through Canada.
- EU in the Americas: Guiana, with its capital Cayenne, is a full administrative part of Europe and France. The region, famous by their Ariane space launches, and are a key relationship for France and the Guiana people. However, Guiana is not part of the Schengen zone of free movement.
- Caribbean Netherlands: The islands of Saba and Bonaire are part of the Netherlands, but not the European Union. They use the U.S. dollar. Aruba and Curacao are actually countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
- Trinidad & Tobago: These are most certainly independent, yet they still have relationships to Britain through Privy Council Appeals: Just this June 28, there is a case in the London privy council regarding Trinidad and Tobago, and another one in Grenada. The last one being very interesting, where solicitor firm Ernest Clarence Wilkinson is a party. Interestingly there is also a Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
- British Virgin Islands: These are colonies and not part of Great Britain. They use the U.S. dollar, and do not use the Royal Mail, but instead have the BVI Post.
- Bermuda: A colony of Britain, they have a Bermudian dollar that is convertible to the U.S. dollar. In tourism marketing, they are fully part of England.
- Nepal: The famed Gurkas are at Sandhurst and in Nepal, and were for a time stationed in Belize.
- Commonwealth and British Army: A number of non-combat positions in the British Army are open to citizens of the Commonwealth. They have opened up a bit as well, so that you do not have to have residency to serve.
- Belize: Britain has an on/off relationship with its former colony, British Honduras, which remains in the Commonwealth, and only received independence in 1981. Belize is a great place for British training, and the training brings income and tourism into the country. It is still a prize place to visit; the U.K. would do well to increase its role there and work closely with the Belize government to take advantage of this relationship. A great short video is HERE.