The Power of the Anglosphere in Eurosceptical thought

 

 

 

 

The idea of the Anglosphere is an important element of British Euroscepticism. Ben Wellings and Helen Baxendale show that calls for unity of purpose between English-speaking peoples offer Eurosceptics an alternative political community to the European Union, and one that aligns history, culture and politics more closely than does Britain’s membership of the EU. Although the Anglosphere does not yet constitute a viable political alternative to Britain’s EU membership, articulating it helps Eurosceptics imagine a UK outside the European Union.

The rise in Euroscepticism within the Conservative Party after 2010 was preceded by a decade of discussion about the existence of the so-called ‘Anglosphere’ as a viable alternative to the UK’s membership of the European Union. Amidst all the searching for Swiss or Norwegian models for Britain’s relationship with the EU, some Eurosceptics advanced the Anglosphere in response to criticisms about the lack of an alternative vision to European integration.

Euroscepticism and the Anglosphere

Speaking in the debate on the Maastricht treaty in 1992, the Conservative Minister for Europe, Tristan Garel-Jones posed the question that always caused some awkward silences amongst British Eurosceptics: ‘Can the anti-federalists, the Euro-sceptics and little Englanders offer a positive alternative?’

Reflecting on this in The Spectator, Tim Congdon floated a response: the English-speaking peoples or what was increasingly being referred to as the ‘Anglosphere’. From the late 1990s, exponents of the ‘Anglosphere’ idea argued that the English-speaking nations are distinguished by a set of institutions and characteristics that the other advanced nations of Europe ultimately lack: a common law tradition, respect for private property, continuous representative government, and a culture that nurtures civil society and entrepreneurial enterprise.

Emerging in the late 1990s, the Anglosphere idea is, in essence, a proposal for an international organisation that accommodates and celebrates the history, culture and institutions that many hard Eurosceptics believe make Britain different from the continent. It is, in short, a mutual political association that variously includes the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the English-speaking Caribbean islands and Singapore, all dedicated to free trade and greater military and security cooperation that could constitute, in Robert Conquest’s words, ‘a centre of hope in the world … around which peace, cooperation, and democracy can develop’.

The Anglosphere idea has proven attractive to prominent British Eurosceptics. Margaret Thatcher, David Willetts, John Redwood, Daniel Hannan, David Davis, Norman Lamont, Liam Fox, Bill Cash, Michael Howard, and William Rees-Mogg all wrote or spoke in support of increased cooperation across the Anglosphere, with their ideas often published or promoted in Conrad Black’s and Rupert Murdoch’s media outlets.

Britain, Europe and the English-speaking Peoples

Although sentimental ties to the Commonwealth and the wider English-speaking world never went away, the Commonwealth could not provide a viable alternative to Europe in the mid-1970s. But this context changed. As such, Eurosceptics in Britain have questioned Britain’s accession to the Common Market.

Writing from Melbourne in 2013, Boris Johnson spoke of the ‘historic and strategic decision that this country took in 1973’ in which ‘we betrayed our relationships with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand’. This betrayal was the product of specific historical circumstances – domestic, European and global – that no longer pertained. Johnson argued that:

When Britain joined the Common Market, it was at a time when the establishment was defeatist, declinist and obsessed with the idea that we were being left out of the most powerful economic club in the world. In those days – when olive oil and garlic had barely appeared on the dining tables of Britain – it was assumed that in order to be “internationalist” it was enough to be European. Well, it is now perfectly obvious that that is no longer enough – and that we need to seek a wider destiny for our country.

The attraction of such arguments was that they appeared to make historic and cultural sense. The Anglosphere suggested that progress could be reconciled with the restitution of a historical wrong and a future for Britain outside the EU imagined amongst a community of English-speaking peoples sanctioned by the past relationships and shared culture. Thus a political choice that seemed expansive in 1973 was perceived as parochial forty years later.

A renewed emphasis on long-standing and stable (if somewhat taken-for-granted) political relations with Commonwealth countries chimed with calls for a political re-orientation away from Europe after 2010. For example, speaking in Sydney only days before David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech on the EU in London, William Hague argued for closer political cooperation between Britain and Australia, exemplified by the on-going ‘five eyes’ intelligence cooperation, the regular ministerial-level meetings inaugurated in 2006 under the name of AUKMIN and the diplomatic and consular cooperation in emerging countries that were already well established.

European Integration and the Anglo-British Past

The strong sense of British difference from the continent that animated many Eurosceptics and Anglosphere enthusiasts was firmly rooted in a particular understanding of Britain’s past, making the Anglosphere the other side of the Eurosceptic coin. John Redwood neatly encapsulated the centrality of this history to hard Eurosceptic thought:

Britain is at peace with its past in a way that many continental countries could never be… We do not have to live down the shame that many French people feel regarding the events of 1940-44. We do not have to live…with the collective guilt that Germany feels about the Holocaust… We do not wake up every morning like Italians to wonder who might be in government today and which government ministers might be charged with corruption tomorrow.

Such a rendering of the past is redolent of the dominant British historiography of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which uncritically celebrated Britain’s constitutional and imperial achievements and the collective exceptionalism of the English-speaking peoples to be found in David Cameron’s ‘favourite book,’ Our Island Story, by Henrietta Marshall.

In this understanding of the past, the unique British inheritance that makes further integration into Europe undesirable to hard Eurosceptics is the very same inheritance that unites the Anglophone world, rendering deeper cooperation and closer association not only eminently possible but highly desirable. In this way, with the ‘Special Relationship’ at its core, the Anglosphere’s proponents contend it would constitute a more authentic and robust standard-bearer for Western values than a weak and crisis-ridden EU could ever hope to be.

Conclusion

Even advocates of the Anglosphere Association are happy for it to remain just an idea: a gratifyingly provocative retort to the likes of Tristan Garel Jones. An institutionalised Anglosphere Association is unlikely to be realised anytime soon. But the practicalities and prospects of the Anglosphere as a functional entity are not really the main point of interest here. Anglosphere enthusiasm is significant first and foremost for what it says about a certain strand of hard British Euroscepticism and its conception of Britain’s identity and place in the world.

Source: The power of the Anglosphere in Eurosceptical thought

After Brexit: The Eurosceptic vision of an Anglosphere Future

Eurosceptics fantasies about an alliance of the Anglosphere may be implausible, but they show the need for a positive vision.

Now that the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has published the proposed reforms to the relationship between the UK and the EU, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has endorsed them as the basis for the UK’s continued membership of the union, the starting gun has effectively been fired in the referendum campaign. A central challenge for Eurosceptic supporters of Brexit is how to articulate a prosperous, optimistic future for the UK outside the EU. Conversely, supporters of staying-in need to show why Britain is stronger inside the union, and why leaving it would be risky. Much of this hangs on bread-and-butter questions about jobs and living standards, and the extent to which the Prime Minister’s reform package addresses public concerns about immigration and democratic control over EU institutions. But bigger questions about Britain’s identity and place in the world loom large too.

In the last couple of decades, eurosceptics have developed the idea that Britain’s future lies with a group of “Anglosphere” countries, not with a union of European states. At the core of this Anglosphere are the “five eyes” countries (so-called because of intelligence cooperation) of the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Each, it is argued, share a common history, language and political culture: liberal, protestant, free market, democratic and English-speaking. Sometimes the net is cast wider, to encompass Commonwealth countries and former British colonies, such as India, Singapore and Hong Kong. But the emotional and political heart of the project resides in the five eyes nations.

As this lineage suggests, the roots of the Anglosphere concept lie in 19th century imperialist discourses, and more specifically in the idea of an Imperial Federation, which gained ground in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the British Empire came under pressure from rising nationalist and anti-colonialist forces. Federation, with an Imperial Parliament governing foreign, defence and trade policy, seemed an ideal solution for keeping dominions and colonies happily inside the empire. The First World War put paid to this ambition but the idea lived on in the concept of the Commonwealth.

As Professor Michael Kenny and I set out in an essay for the New Statesman, the Anglosphere returned as a central concept in eurosceptic thinking in the 1980s, when Europhilia started to wane in the Conservative Party and Thatcherism was its ascendancy. On the right of the Conservative Party, we argued:

“…American ideas were a major influence, especially following the emergence of a powerful set of foundations, think tanks and intellectuals in the UK that propounded arguments and ideas that were associated with the fledgling “New Right”. In this climate, the Anglosphere came back to life as an alternative ambition, advanced by a powerful alliance of global media moguls (Conrad Black, in particular), outspoken politicians, well-known commentators and intellectual outriders, who all shared an insurgent ideological agenda and a strong sense of disgruntlement with the direction and character of mainstream conservatism.

In his major work Reflections on a Ravaged Century, the historian Robert Conquest argued that the political arrangements of the west were all increasingly deficient, the EU included. The answer was “a more fruitful unity” between the Anglosphere nations. And, in a speech to the English-Speaking Union in New York in 1999, Margaret Thatcher endorsed Conquest’s vision, noting how such an alliance would “redefine the political landscape”. What appealed most was the prospect of the UK finding an alliance founded upon deep, shared values, the antithesis of the position it faced in Europe.”

The idea of the Anglosphere as an alternative to the European Union gained ground amongst conservatives in their New Labour wildnerness years, when transatlantic dialogue and trips down under kept their hopes of ideological revival alive. It was given further oxygen by the neo-conservative coalition of the willing stitched together for the invasion of Iraq, which seemed to demonstrate the Anglosphere’s potency as an geo-political organizing ideal, in contrast to mainstream hostility to the war in Europe. By the time of the 2010 election, the Anglosphere had become common currency in conservative circles, name checked by leading centre-right thinkers like David Willetts, as well as eurosceptic luminaries, such as Dan Hannan MEP, who devoted a book and numerous blogs to the subject.

As Foreign Secretary, William Hague, sought to strengthen ties between the Anglosphere countries, despite the indifference shown by the Obama presidency to the idea. After leaving the cabinet, the leading eurosceptic Owen Patterson gave a lengthy speech in the US on the subject of an Anglospheric global alliance for free trade and security; he could expect a sympathetic hearing in Republican circles, if not the White House. And in its 2015 election Manifesto, UKIP praised the Anglosphere as a “global community” of which the UK was a key part.

These geo-political claims are met with derision in centrist political circles. For international relations realists, the idea of an Anglosphere barely merits a straight face, let alone serious consideration. And it is unquestionable that the US and Canada, let alone India, would view a geo-political alliance of English-speaking as an alternative to existing global structures as fanciful; indeed, they question why the UK should be entertaining leaving the EU at all.

But the Anglosphere’s potency is ideological, not geo-political. It functions as an imaginary horizon for a eurosceptic worldview of Britain after Brexit, uniting the UK with a global trading future as well as a sceptered isle past. It registers nostalgia, but also energy: Britain would be liberated to march on the world stage again, freed from sclerotic, conformist Europe and reanimated by the animal spirits that once gave it an empire. Thus it defends the eurosceptic flank where it is most vulnerable – rebutting the charge that it wants to take Britain back to the 1950s by delving even deeper into our island story and casting it forward into the 21st century.

This should give pro-Europeans pause for thought. The “Remain” campaign is currently premised largely on the risks of Brexit (or “Project Fear” as it is known to its detractors). It needs an optimistic account of Britain’s future in the world – one which passes through the European Union, not past it. Yet globalization currently has a bad press, and in the face of insecurity and inequality, a New Labour formula of “globalization plus good schools” doesn’t cut much ice with working class voters. Developing its own version of Britain’s identity and role in the world, beyond the fact of EU membership alone, is therefore a pressing task.

Source: https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/nick-pearce/after-brexit-eurosceptic-vision-of-anglosphere-future

http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/iprblog/2016/02/02/after-brexit-the-eurosceptic-vision-of-an-anglosphere-future/