Nigel Wright: What Canada’s new Conservative leadership thinks about CANZUK

8 Mar

Nigel Wright is the London-based Chair of Canadian Conservatives Abroad (CCA). 

With the United Kingdom’s recent withdrawal from the European Union, the country finds itself needing to negotiate new free trade deals to expand market access for its products and services. This position provides a unique opportunity for the UK to work more closely with other like-minded, Commonwealth countries, to not only allow for free trade between nations, but to come together and advance their shared democratic values on the world stage. A Canada-Australia-New Zealand-United Kingdom (CANZUK) alignment could benefit not only these countries but also the wider global community.

Erin O’Toole, Leader of the Official Opposition of Canada, championed CANZUK during his leadership bid for the Conservative Party of Canada. Citing Canada’s long history of championing the rule of law, human rights, and standing with its allies to defend democratic values globally, O’Toole sees CANZUK as an opportunity to adopt a policy of “aspirational multilateralism,” where these like-minded Commonwealth countries work not only to advance the wellbeing of their citizens but also work to promote a commitment to democratic values on the world stage.

O’Toole’s commitment to CANZUK should not come as a surprise to those familiar with Canadian politics or the policies of the Conservative Party of Canada. In addition to specifically calling for a CANZUK Treaty, the Conservative Party’s official policy states that Canada’s government should work with foreign nations to reduce protectionist policies, in turn allowing for the establishment of free trade agreements.

In fact, one of O’Toole’s predecessors as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, doubled the number of countries with which Canada has reciprocal free trade agreements. Simply put, reciprocal free trade is an important part of present-day Conservative party policy.

Since becoming leader, O’Toole has also made it his goal to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party of Canada. In his televised victory speech after he won the leadership, O’Toole introduced himself to Canadians, telling them that everyone “has a home in the Conservative Party of Canada.” He quickly orchestrated a rebrand and has made efforts to establish the Conservatives as a “modern, pragmatic, mainstream party.” A forward-thinking internationalist agreement like CANZUK shares many similar themes.

With the current hung parliament and the Liberal government widely acknowledged to have bungled the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for Canada, an election could take place this year. O’Toole’s embrace of CANZUK might provide the Conservative Party of Canada with a foreign policy plank that resonates with Canadians looking for sources of economic growth and for avenues to advance democratic values in a world in which that has become more urgent to do.

One of the cornerstones of CANZUK is freedom of movement, and this policy could give conservative parties a meaningful youth issue. CANZUK proposes allowing professionals, students and recent graduates to travel for work, education or leisure without the difficulties or bureaucratic hurdles associated with applying for visas.

This provides the CANZUK nations with an opportunity to establish an academic exchange similar to Europe’s Erasmus programme, which is popular among students in the EU. Academic exchanges have proven economic benefits. Increasing cross-fertilisation opportunities could enrich the skills and global experience of CANZUK students and help them to form international relationships that can generate trade and investment for Canada.

It is not only students who could benefit from enhanced education opportunities through CANZUK. The freedom of movement associated with the agreement would reduce the bureaucratic red tape that faculty and researchers currently grapple with when they wish to research at another institution or in another country.

This provides an opportunity for member countries’ leading research institutions to widen their net and more easily tap into the knowledge of the other nations leading academics and researchers. If 2020 has taught us anything, its that reducing barriers to research and knowledge sharing is essential in today’s world.

CANZUK could also give its member countries an avenue to help move the world forward. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK are in many respects model countries: peaceful, prosperous, and multi-ethnic pluralist democracies. With countries around the globe stepping back from liberty and rights, the world needs leadership from countries committed to democratic values and freedom more broadly. This agreement could help facilitate much-needed cooperation between four of the world’s democratic leaders.

CANZUK’s member countries are already members of Five Eyes, which includes the United States, and cooperate to share intelligence. CANZUK would create additional mechanisms to help these four nations enhance and coordinate their own defence and foreign affairs capabilities.

With the UK being the only member nation to have a permanent UN Security Council seat, CANZUK could provide a forum for the nations to unite on foreign policy initiatives, with the UK voicing them on their behalf at the council. The agreement would also create an opportunity for increased military collaboration, training and equipment supply which could benefit the smaller militaries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Specifically for Canada, CANZUK could make us a more valuable strategic partner to the US by providing a deeper bridge to the other three allied countries, while simultaneously creating anchor points to help us to preserve our ability to act independently of the US when that is necessary for our national interest. The CANZUK alignment would fit well with the UK’s desired entry into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Canada should promote.

The prospect of an early federal election in Canada makes this an opportune time to develop the CANZUK idea further. Canadian Conservatives Abroad intends to play its part in doing so.

CCA will be hosting a policy discussion about CANZUK on 20 March during the Conservative Party of Canada’s convention. The event will feature UK MP Andrew Rosindell and Canadian MP Ed Fast. For more information about CCA please visit conservativesabroad.ca

Duwayne Brooks: The Windrush cross-government working group; an opportunity for a much-needed road to recovery

22 Dec

Duwayne Brooks is a former Lewisham Councillor and Deputy Chair of the Safer Communities Board at the Local Government Association.

In 2018, when the terrible news of how successive governments had failed the Windrush generation broke, many parliamentarians and citizens of all political stripes were rightly outraged. Those of us who are from that community were stunned into disbelief.

The real story of the Windrush generation is one of success, not scandal. It is one of contribution, notable achievement, and proud legacy. My aunt arrived here in 1955. She sent for my father who arrived at Southampton on the December 5, 1960 aboard the ship Ascania. My mother arrived by plane, landing at Heathrow Airport in 1970.

Like the vast majority of Windrushians, they worked hard, bought their houses, built their lives, and raised and educated their families right here in Great Britain. The British way of life was a natural fit for their conservative values and strong belief in self-determination.

Both my parents naturalised and received their documentation back in the day. Had they not, I could have been one of the many innocent people who found themselves caught up in an immigration system that, in my view, was never designed to deliberately target or deport Caribbean people. But the direct impact it has had on some of the members of the Windrush generation can easily lead people to think so.

The Windrush scandal has caused indescribable pain to those affected – the kind that is hard for most to imagine, let alone have to live through.

Imagine being told by your government that you don’t have a right to be here, in the country you re-built and called your home; that you’re to be deported to another country that you’ve never visited or have any memory of; that you are not entitled to any benefits, housing or healthcare, despite having paid taxes all your working life.

Imagine being forcibly separated from your family members and experiencing inhumane and degrading treatment in our detention centres. These are just some of the examples of the terrible experiences that people have had to endure and that have been reported in the media.

The beginning of a journey

So, earlier this year, when I was asked to be part of a new Windrush cross-government working group, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity for us to start out on a much-needed road to recovery for those who have suffered – but also one that would take us all from the depths of the scandal back to the story of success.

The Windrush cross-government working group, which is co-chaired by Bishop Derek Webley MBE DL and the Home Secretary, gives support, advice and challenges the Home Office on all matters related to Windrush. We provide feedback and insights to the Government, from those who have been affected – be they Caribbean, Indian, African or from any of the Commonwealth countries who were part of “the Windrush Generation” that came to Britain between 1948-1973. And, together, we use our expertise to develop and deliver practical solutions that will help them overcome the challenges they face.

Collectively, the group is deeply committed to righting the wrongs, to enable positive closure for the victims of the scandal, to creating equality of opportunity for those affected – regardless of their social and ethnic background – and to ensuring that this type of calamity never happens again.

Reaching a major milestone

Monday’s announcement by the Home Secretary, to “turbo-charge” payments from the Windrush Compensation Scheme, saw us reach an important milestone on this road to recovery and back to success. In consultation with stakeholders, affected members of the Windrush generation, and other partners, a new minimum payment for claimants of £10,000 has now been established.

This is forty times what was previously being offered. The Home Office is also raising the bar for the maximum amount of compensation that can be claimed to £100,000 under impact on life, a ten-fold increase from the previous amount. To make sure that previous claimants don’t miss out, they will all receive top-up payments to reach the new minimum or maximum.

In a bid to go further faster, the improvements to the Windrush Compensation Scheme also seek to redress the balance for the delays in payments and the consequential distress that claimants have thus far been experiencing. A new “preliminary” payment of £10,000 will now be issued immediately on receipt of an application that clearly demonstrates an “impact on life”. In addition, the Home Office has removed the previous caps on both categories of loss of earnings for those who lost their jobs, enabling them to claim the full losses of being out of work.

These vital changes have given hope to the many people who now stand to benefit after enduring a long battle for survival. 1300 claimants have already received official letters outlining what these improvements mean for them. Sadly they will not have come soon enough for the families of Sarah O’Connor, Hubert Howard, Richard (Wes) Stewart, Dexter Bristol, Eddie Lindsay, Joshua Moses, and Paulette Wilson, who all died before they received their compensation. Even so, no amount of money can compensate for a loss as great as that of a loved one. We hope their families can take these changes as a measure of our resolve to ensure that no others should suffer the way they did.

The direction of travel for the coming year

Monday’s announcements demonstrate a clear signal from the Home Secretary that the Home Office will do right by the people. She has listened, heard and taken decisive action – which is more than has happened previously. But, of course, there is still more to do, and more of the road to travel before we reach the ultimate destination. This includes completing the work already underway to implement the Home Office’s action plan in response to Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned review. So we are not complacent, or thinking “job done” by any means.

As I said at the outset of this piece, the great story of Windrush is not one of scandal, it is one of success. As Bishop Webley says, it is one of faith, courage, hope and determination. So as well as supporting those affected, we on the working group also want to recognise, appreciate and celebrate all Windrushians for everything they have done – and continue to do – for the country that they chose to make their home.

For further information about the Windrush cross-government working group see this link.

Rob Sutton: Sir Philip Barton – a key player in Johnson’s quest for global Britain

5 Aug

Rob Sutton is a junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Sir Philip Barton, the British High Commissioner to India, has been announced as the incoming Permanent Under-Secretary of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). He will take over from Sir Simon McDonald, who is stepping down at Johnson’s request, on September 1 and oversee the long-awaited merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DfID)

An FCO lifer, Barton will inherit complex internal dynamics and be vital to the success of Johnson’s mission to reshape Britain’s role on the world stage. He has been with the FCO since 1986, punctuated occasionally by secondments to the Cabinet Office. Early assignments included Caracas, Nicosia and Gibraltar, and he was Private Secretary to the Prime Minister under Major, then Blair.

From 2011 he was Deputy Head of Mission to the USA in Washington, D.C., from 2014 to 2016 he was High Commissioner to Pakistan, and he is currently serving as High Commissioner to India. He has been tested during political crises, as the Director General, Consular and Security at the time of the Salisbury poisonings and most recently as Director General of the Covid-19 Response at the Cabinet Office.

His appointment has thus far had a positive reception. Dominic Raab has called him an “outstanding public servant and diplomat” with “experience across all areas of foreign policy.” Sir Mark Sedwill said he “will bring to the role an understanding of overseas development funding together with experience of international relations.” Jeremy Hunt Tweeted that “he is one of the most thoughtful & diligent civil servants I worked with & carries great wisdom lightly.” Andrew Adonis described him as “an immensely able & experienced ambassador who is well equipped for the big challenge of heading the diplomatic service at this time of crisis.”

He is well-liked and trusted. It is important that he is perceived as a safe pair of hands and a natural choice within the civil service. With multiple high-profile civil servants stepping down since the 2019 general election, a controversial appointment to lead FCDO would have put No 10 on the back foot at a time when it should be looking to craft a positive vision for the future.

For Barton, the challenges are both internal and external. Within the FCDO, a new hierarchy must be built. Creating clear chains of command from two parallel organisations with competing interests will cause friction. Buzzwords like “coherence” and “integration” will seem premature if the new organisation is wrought with internal power struggles and turf wars. We should have some idea of Barton’s initial success by the end of September.

Long term, he will need to ensure the functions of the FCDO’s constituent departments can be executed. Tensions are an inevitability, and tailoring a unified mission will be difficult when commercial and political interests and poverty relief pull in different directions. All this as Britain seeks new trade deals across the globe and weighs its future relationship with Europe.

Barton appears to be an exceptionally good fit to take on these challenges. His background is less Eurocentric than his predecessors in the role. He looks away from Brussels and towards Commonwealth nations with whom Johnson will be eager to renew relationships.

His experiences will also help to ensure Britain continues to be a world leader in international development. Pakistan is one of the five biggest recipients of UK aid funding, and Barton’s time as High Commissioner will have given him a better understanding of the challenges of poverty relief than his peers appointed to industrialised European nations. This will go some way to settle the nerves of those who worry international development will be an afterthought for the new office.

Barton will take the helm at the FCDO at a time of internal upheaval and international uncertainty. His career path is typical enough to avoid controversy but his specific experiences may prove invaluable to performing the multiple tasks which his success will depend upon. The Government aims to complete the formation of FCDO by the end of September, so we will know soon enough whether he is up to the task.