Australian republicans have misread Brexit

A recent opinion piece by Glen Norris (‘Brexit likely to revive republican movement’) underlines how elastic republican claims are becoming.

According to Norris, Brexit will now trigger Scottish independence and the unification between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  But closer to home Brexit has supposedly re-animated the republican cause – Britain is “a shadow of its former self”, he notes, while Australia’s future is exclusively in Asia and we are not truly independent until we un-tether ourselves from a shaky and unstable Crown.

“Britain’s Brexit debacle has put an end to the only good argument Australian monarchists used to have,” adds the national director of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), “which is that the monarchy is a stable rock in times of crisis.”

One wonders if Norris or the ARM have taken anything from Prime Minister Johnson’s thumping 364-seat victory. Not only has three years of political indecision galvanised the Brexit mandate but painting good citizens as “xenophobic” and “backward-looking” has entirely missed the appeal of a Global Britain, in the words of Johnson, “running a truly global foreign policy.”

“The UK should build on its free trade traditions to become the global champion of a reformed World Trade Organisation,” notes a 2019 Henry Jackson Society report, adding that “the UK is uniquely placed to campaign for change, as it seeks to find terms acceptable to the US, the EU, China and other major trading nations.”

While the issues of Scottish independence and Irish unification are subject to their own dynamics, one is baffled how Australia cannot continue to trade and sustain good relations with Asia while not being a republic. For over two centuries the Australian Crown has  hardly been a symbol of confusion in Asia – it stands as an example of tradition and stability that is well-understood and where these concepts have strong appeal. At the 1998 Constitutional Convention the late Kim Bonython said that “I always thought that reverence for one’s ancestors was a cornerstone of Asian philosophy.” Clearly only some of us carry this observation and instinct.

The idea of Australia not being fully independent has also been extinguished so many times it has hard to know where to begin. For example, Bob Hawke’s 1988 Constitutional Commission found full independence took place sometime between 1926 and World War Two. Others argue it was in 1931 with the Statute of Westminster. Some will say even earlier. But for most of us non-lawyers governed by common sense “we make our own decisions,” notes the Australian Monarchist League’s Philip Benwell, “and are not answerable in any way to the United Kingdom.”

The Crown is also a source of stability, especially when weighed against a decade of Australia’s revolving door prime ministership. And at a time of constitutional crisis it has proven to be “the light above politics”, to borrow from the British philosopher Roger Scruton, “which shines down on the human bustle from a calmer and more exalted sphere”.

For Australians, Brexit is hardly the opportunity for a republic but a reminder of the things worth keeping in a changing world.

Picture source: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

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