This piece is republished with permission from GriffithReview69: The European Trade, edited by Ashley Hay and Natasha Cica, and revealed in partnership with the Australian Nationwide College
When Boris Johnson unveiled his authorities’s new points-based immigration system in February 2020, designed to ship Brexit by shifting Britain’s migrant consumption “away from a reliance on low cost labour from Europe”, the spin cycle was at full tilt. This was no elevating of the drawbridge, however a sign that “the UK is open and welcoming to the highest expertise from internationally” – impressed by the shining instance of Australia.
All through the 2019 election marketing campaign, Johnson had relentlessly touted an “Australian-style points-based system” so as to “take again management” of Britain’s borders. Although criticised by his personal advisers for signalling “various things to totally different individuals”, the “Australian-style” tag caught.
Capitalising on the encouraging voter response, Johnson took the Australian connection a step additional inside days of “getting Brexit executed” on January 31. In a significant deal with to enterprise leaders, the prime minister went out of his solution to dispel outmoded conceptions of Britain’s future choices outdoors the European Union. “The selection is emphatically not ‘deal or no deal’,” he insisted. “The query is whether or not we agree a buying and selling relationship with the EU corresponding to Canada’s – or extra like Australia’s. In both case, I’ve little doubt that Britain will prosper.”
This immediately had pundits scrambling for his or her worldwide trade-deal manuals. Though Canada’s free-trade settlement with the European Union has lengthy figured as one in every of a number of attainable alternate options for Britain, at no level through the interminable Brexit negotiations had an “Australian mannequin” ever been tabled. There’s a easy cause for that, in fact – Australia doesn’t have a proper commerce settlement with the EU.
Because it occurs, Australia’s buying and selling historical past with the European Union is one in every of a long time of frustration, recrimination and sheer onerous slog within the face of Europe’s notorious protectionist boundaries. Though the state of affairs has improved within the extra liberal buying and selling local weather of latest years, Australia is hardly the place to show for a mannequin of frictionless borders and free-market entry. However that was immaterial to Johnson, who calculated that an “Australian-style deal” sounded much less calamitous than “no deal in any respect”. By a deft turning of the Antipodean dial, he sought to neutralise the “deal or no deal” debate that had plagued the nation for years. Someway, the mere point out of Australia labored as an analgesic. It forged the toughest conceivable Brexit in a safer, extra acquainted guise.
To know how this was even remotely believable, contemplate
“Matesong” – the Australian Tourism Fee’s latest AU$15 million marketing campaign that includes Kylie Minogue as a seductive siren, beckoning Brexit fatigued Britons with a breezy ironic melody. Launched on British tv screens on Christmas Day 2019 – instantly earlier than the Queen’s speech – the advert promoted Australia because the pure antidote to a “powerful and complicated” yr of “negotiating difficult commerce offers”. Regardless of their battle with the EU, the viewers have been reassured, they may at all times depend on Australia’s instinctively sunny disposition:
However all of Australia loves you
And we’ll by no means choose you
You simply want some area.
As if drawing on Johnson’s personal market analysis, the track chimed with the spirit of a beleaguered individuals craving unconditional friendship overseas:
While you want an finish to what ails ya
Name in your associates in Australia
Wonderful United Kingdom
Lean in your wing-men and ladies.
Way over only a welcome getaway, Australia was portrayed as “a pal to depend on, a shoulder to cry on” as a result of “serving to a mate, is a nationwide trait”.
And never simply any previous mate. The implication all through was that Australia owed a particular obligation of care to its British “sisters and brothers”.
For all of the evident lightheartedness, there was critical intent within the marketing campaign’s core pledge: “We’ll put you proper”. Like Brexit itself, the advert nurtured the fantasy that regardless of the adversity, the Brits may at all times name on their “besties throughout the ocean”.
It’s unlikely that almost all of Australians really really feel that manner about Britain at the moment – however that’s irrelevant. The marketing campaign was made for Britain, tapping into how the Brexit-voting public wish to assume Australians really feel in regards to the mom nation’s peril by the hands of stubborn Europeans.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (himself a former senior tourism govt) gave additional encouragement with a suitably fawning tweet congratulating Johnson on his December 12 electoral victory. “Wanting
ahead to the soundness this brings and a brand new deal for Ounceswith the UK. Say g’day to the quiet Britons for us.”
Morrison left no room for doubt that Australia and Britain have been on the identical aspect when it got here to Brexit.
One in all his predecessors, Tony Abbott, appeared much more mate-struck. In one in every of his scribblings for the Brexit-worshipping Every day Telegraph, he heralded the upcoming restoration of “the unrestricted commerce that we loved for 150 years” as a historic vindication of Australia’s deepest loyalties. It was, Abbott declared, “the most effective 2019 Christmas current both of us may have”.
Actually? There may be certainly no rational, self-interested financial argument for Australia to champion Brexit from the sidelines, not least at a time when the prospects for an Australia–European Union commerce settlement have by no means been higher. Britain has remained a key marketplace for sure sectors such because the wine trade, however its general significance to the Australian financial system has turn out to be more and more marginal (as its thirteenth-largest buying and selling associate, wedged between Thailand and Vietnam). Commerce with the remaining 27 European Union members mixed has outgunned Britain by three to 1, and a good portion of Australia’s exports to Britain have been destined finally for European shoppers.
The place Britain has remained essential to Australia is as a colossal supply of funding capital, however this additionally accommodates appreciable dangers ought to Brexit-related volatility rebound sharply on British monetary markets.
That was primarily the view of the Australian authorities beneath Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the time of the Brexit referendum in 2016.
Perceiving that the disruptive results on the worldwide financial system may solely be to Australia’s detriment, no official encouragement was given to the concept in anyway. The referendum itself obtained solely low to medium-level media protection in Australia, a far cry from the drama of the 1960s and 1970s when the tortuous path of British entry into the Frequent Market (because it was then recognized) was front-page copy for a rustic nonetheless closely reliant on the British market to maintain a variety of key primary-producing sectors, from wheat to beef, dairy items, sugar, apples and pears.
Within the intervening 47 years, Australians have lengthy since recovered from the shock of Britain’s choice to show its again on conventional Commonwealth suppliers for the advantages of an unique new preferential buying and selling zone. There was no “matesong” sung when Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Doug Anthony returned empty handed from London in 1971 in a last-ditch bid to salvage a portion of the British marketplace for Australian producers. It was the chilly, medical phrases of separation that enabled Australia to embark on an intensive strategy of self-examination, considering a future with out Britain.
How, then, to make sense of the latest stirring of such clearly outworn affinities? Johnson’s predilection for “Australian-style” is probably not fairly so latest – nor solely focus-group pushed. Throughout a go to to the Melbourne Writers Pageant in 2013, he latched on to the story of an Australian trainer pressured out of Britain when her work allow expired. This “disgraceful, disgusting, indefensible” remedy of hard-working Australians, he ventured, was the “notorious consequence” of getting into the EU in 1973. It was a call that amounted to the betrayal of a individuals who have been way more “intimately cognate with Britain”.
Even then, it was a view higher attuned to EU enmities in Britain than any lingering resentment in Australia. Some 25 years in the past, I began work on what would turn out to be Australia and the British Embrace – a historical past of Britain’s purported sellout of Australia at its level of entry into the brand new Europe; the very burden of Johnson’s beef. It was a time when Australia’s financial system and political tradition had been so profoundly reoriented in direction of the Asia-Pacific area that Europe typically – and definitely any residual acrimony over Britain’s place in Europe – had completely receded from view. I doubt I might have come throughout the topic in any respect had I not made the retro alternative to review European historical past and languages.
It was whereas working in Europe for a Brussels-backed undertaking on the historical past of European integration that I first stumbled onto the Australian aspect of the story of Britain’s courtship of the Frequent Market. It had by no means featured in my college or college curriculum and I had no recollection of anybody ever mentioning the existential dread that had conditioned Australia’s official response to Britain’s early European overtures. However in British and European archives, the uncooked feeling and dogged recidivism of Prime Minister Robert Menzies’s authorities in coming to phrases with Britain’s alternative was unmistakable.
It was not simply that total rural communities, from fruit growers to dairy farmers to sugar producers, confronted monetary smash from the lack of “imperial preferences” within the British market. It was a query of loyalty, of an Australia dedicated to the civic rites and rituals of being British, all of the sudden and unceremoniously “edged from the imperial nest” (within the phrases of 1 up to date newspaper). Cartoonists had a area day depicting Britain variously because the neglectful mom, the wayward partner, the fairweather buddy, whereas whispers of “ingratitude” for wartime sacrifices have been continuously insinuated.
There was each cause why Australian main producers would wish to fend off an pressing menace to their livelihood, however what appeared extraordinary was the emotional leverage they have been in a position to muster. Commerce was inseparable from issues of fealty, of implicit codes of conduct and unwritten obligations that any self-respecting British authorities was duty-bound to honour.
What intrigued me in regards to the materials was its sheer remoteness from the Australia of the 1990s. Inside a mere matter of a long time, the assumptions, sentiments and on a regular basis frequent sense of Australia’s natural ties to Britain had seemingly fallen by the wayside.
In Britain, too, though euroscepticism was a well-recognized function of the political panorama within the post-Thatcher period, it not drew on the language and imagery of “kith and kin abroad” to uphold its ethical claims. Discuss of a momentous alternative between “Commonwealth and Frequent Market” had all however disappeared within the wake of the primary referendum in 1975. Britain’s place in Europe per se was not the bone of rivalry; it was extra a query of how a lot Europe there needs to be, and the scope of its permissible intrusions into British nationwide life.
The occasions of the previous 4 years have turned all this on its head, though it could be a mistake to make an excessive amount of of Britain’s renewed love for the Commonwealth. Considerably, Johnson’s signature post-Brexit imaginative and prescient of constructing a “World Britain” was solely coined three weeks after his Brexit triumph of June 2016. He went on to road-test it a number of occasions within the autumn of that yr earlier than deeming it a serviceable gross sales pitch, furnishing a shell-shocked Conservative authorities with some semblance of a manner ahead. It by no means shaped part of the Brexit bundle that had been bought to the citizens within the spring of 2016. Certainly, the Go away marketing campaign intentionally shied away from “international” messaging out of worry of alienating core constituencies that wished to utterly rid the nation of pernicious outdoors influences.
It subsequently can’t be assumed that voters have been consciously swayed by goals of restoring hyperlinks with the previous white British world.
Nor has “World Britain” been developed past a fleeting soundbite. That has fuelled suspicion that it’s merely an train in cynical euphemism to conjure older, discredited enthusiasms. The British parliament’s Overseas Affairs Committee took the extraordinary step in 2017 of launching an official inquiry into the time period itself concluding that “for World Britain to be greater than a worthy aspiration, the slogan should be backed by substance”. However this missed the purpose completely. For a authorities that thrives on ambiguity, the very vagueness of World Britain – its capability to absorb in every single place and nowhere in a single gesture – is its principal asset. Unsurprisingly, Johnson made zero effort to rail within the uncertainty about its ambivalent historic resonances.
Equally, Johnson’s “intimately cognate” really feel for Australia is nowhere close to as instinctive as he has imagined. His antipodean affinities, like so a lot of his enthusiasms, resemble a superficial skimming of the semantic floor. He avails himself of straightforward cross-cultural references – the Ashes, the rugger, the cursory likeness with the Morrison authorities – although seemingly with out conviction. He lately pledged to carry the 2 nations “nearer collectively than ever earlier than” whereas waving a packet of Arnott’s Tim Tams, trivialising the very object of his purported affections. Like World Britain, his overtures are extra made up than actual, greedy at shards of a shared inheritance slightly than severely making an attempt to reboot the Commonwealth.
Such outward shows of an instinctive rapport can be terribly insensitive. On the peak of Australia’s bushfire carnage in early January, widespread British broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson devoted his column in The Solar to the notion that “Australia is God’s laboratory and folks weren’t really meant to reside there”. For all his signature effrontery, he concluded on a observe of fraternal outreach: “So in the event you’re studying this down there, please come residence. You’ll prefer it. It by no means stops raining. And we’re higher at sport”.
Equally, Abbott’s presumption in rejoicing for Britain on behalf of all Australians was as a lot an outlet for his personal pent up frustrations from the political wilderness. “Relaxation assured that Britain’s associates are cheering you on as you reclaim your future as a sovereign nation,” he urged in a follow-up splash within the Telegraph, casting Australia but once more because the spear-carrying mate-in-chief.
Little doubt there’s a lot goodwill in direction of Britain in Australia, however it’s just about sure that this doesn’t translate into blind, broad-based help for a coverage that has introduced a lot division in Britain itself.
Mates of comfort
All of which means that there was one thing decidedly pressured and inauthentic in regards to the rekindled enthusiasms of “Matesong”. It was evidently (and completely) the exigencies of Brexit that necessitated Johnson’s seaward tack to World Britain. Why his Australian sponsors elected to sail alongside was much less apparent. Partly it needed to do with the polarisations of the tradition wars, the place Brexit has turn out to be tenuously aligned with a raft of right-wing causes from local weather change denial to draconian border legal guidelines to the all-out assault on “political correctness”.
When US President Donald Trump can really feel completely at residence within the firm of Mr Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, tweeting gratuitous denigrations of the European Union, there’s each cause to suspect that extra is at stake than British parliamentary sovereignty. Boosting Brexit has drawn on a deeper nicely of discontents, a brand new entrance within the rear-guard defence of the previous order, with an Australian contingent on the able to do their bit.
However when all is claimed and executed, it’s onerous to disclaim that Australia nonetheless harbours one thing of the previous, Menziean allegiance to the UK – one thing that I had not anticipated to resurface.
The temptation to bask in elaborate theories about time looping backwards must be resisted, nevertheless. The Brexit debate has furnished a profusion of hypothesis in regards to the Empire “putting again”. However though the previous appears ubiquitous within the putative striving for “World Britain” or a revitalised “Anglosphere”, blaming history-in-reverse can be a distraction from the political and industrial imperatives of the current.
I’m reminded of the “complexity and plurality of differing temporalities”, as historian Invoice Schwarz phrases it. That is the excellence between the course of historical past itself and the imprint it leaves on our imaginations, permitting the reveries of the previous to be reactivated within the current, “apparently resistant to the truth that the historic situations that initially gave them life” had come to an finish. It’s as apt an outline as I can discover of the tortured imaginative twists that introduced us Brexit, Australian-style.
It’s not the previous inhabiting the current however the different manner round. Fragments of residual feeling harnessed to present-day impulses the place their modalities – their methods of seeing – will be rendered serviceable. To not be confused with the previous, nor even a dependable facsimile, it’s the repackaging of previous emotional investments in ill-fitting garb.
This stuff, in fact, are by no means static. Up to now few months alone, the political agenda has been completely remodeled by the relentless onslaught of COVID-19. Although Johnson has insisted all through that his Brexit timetable stays unchanged, there will be no denying that the all-dominant subject of the final 4 years has receded amid the mayhem of managing a world pandemic.
But upon his launch from hospital after a near-fatal run in with the illness, the convalescent prime minister couldn’t resist a refined nod to World Britain. In paying heartfelt tribute to the NHS workers who “saved my life”, he singled out two nurses – the one Portuguese, the opposite from New Zealand – who stood by his bedside through the vital hours “when issues may have gone both manner”. It was the latter – Jenny from Invercargill – who monopolised the creativeness of the following media frenzy. Luis from Porto was relegated to “the opposite nurse”. It was a portrait in miniature of the skewed affections that pervade the politics of Brexit Britain. Had Jenny from Invercargill hailed from Inverell, New South Wales, she would equally have served Johnson’s goal.
Stuart Ward has obtained funding from the Velux Foundations.