The Holy Grail of Conservative politics at present is to find some way to attract younger voters, and in particular the under-40 voters who (often voting for the first time) were attracted by Jeremy Corbyn in 2017. There are many angles various commentators have suggested for this, but the one most frequently suggested is housing. But here I want to suggest a different (perhaps surprising) option: immigration.
There has been some comment on a recent YouGov survey showing that Labour leads the Conservatives 44 per cent to 4 per cent amongst 18-24 year old voters on “Which party is best” for housing. But it also leads 30 per cent to 13 per cent on “Which party is best” for immigration.
Most ways to address that lead amongst the young would involve facilitating increased net immigration into the UK, and so risk alienating other votes. But there is one important policy that would not: CANZUK free movement.
“CANZUK” is the name given to the Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom group of countries by diplomats and trade negotiators. There is currently an active movement in Canada to promote the idea that, post-Brexit, the CANZUK group should form a joint free trade agreement, migration agreement and security partnership. In the recent Canadian Conservative Party leadership election, the candidates that came first, third and fifth were all CANZUK advocates. The candidate that came third, Erin O’Toole, made CANZUK (including all three legs – trade, migration and security) one of the key planks of his campaign. This week he was appointed Shadow Foreign Affairs minister – as strong a pro-CANZUK signal as could be. Politicians in Australia and New Zealand have reacted positively to this Canadian initiative. Also this week, Australian Liberal Senator James Paterson proposed folding Canada and the UK into the Australia-New Zealand “Closer Economic Relations” treaty covering trade and migration. In New Zealand the Act NZ party has an official pro-CANZUK policy.
In the UK, so far, by contrast, there has been little political support offered for the CANZUK concept. This could offer a political advantage to whatever party moves first, especially given the support for the idea amongst younger voters. YouGov did polling in 2015 on the idea of free movement amongst the CANZUK states. It found 58 per cent support (versus 45 per cent support for free movement with the US and 46 per cent support for free movement with the EU). Only 19 per cent of voters were opposed.
According to YouGov, a CANZUK migration deal has majority support amongst every demographic — political intention (58 per cent of Conservative voters, 57 per cent of Labour and even 57 per cent of Ukip voters – of whom only 13 per cent support it within Europe); sex (62 per cent of men, 55 per cent of women); age (59 per cent of 18-24s through to 55 per cent of 60+ – of whom only 38 per cent support it within Europe); social grade (64 per cent of ABC1s, 51 per cent of C2DE – versus only 21 per cent of C2DEs opposed); and region (63 per cent of Londoners, 56 per cent of Northerners – versus only 43 per cent of Northerners favouring it with Europe).
In psephology terms, that’s a dream. Almost nothing not already done is as universally supported as that. Crucially, a CANZUK migration deal would not threaten to increase net migration. The reason is that unlike with most migration discussions, a CANZUK migration deal would not basically be solely about how easy it is for foreigners to get into Britain. A CANZUK migration is two-way, mutual. A CANZUK migration deal would be just as much about how Britons – and especially those younger Britons who might be the most interested – could go abroad. Australia already has more UK citizens living there than live in the entire EU27. Australia’s GDP per capita is more than a third higher than the UK’s, whilst those in Canada and New Zealand are within around 10 per or so of ours. The usual concerns about attracting one-way economic migration from very poor countries simply would not apply. We could have a CANZUK migration deal and still pursue reductions in net migration to the UK.
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Australia and New Zealand have already agreed to be the first countries to do trade deals with us as soon as we can set our own trade policy. Canada has said it would like the transition from the current deal via the EU to a new post-Brexit deal to be seamless. Australia and New Zealand have both raised the issue of a migration deal.
If the Conservatives want to appeal to younger voters on immigration, showing that they understand both the aspiration to be seen to be open to the outside world, and the aspiration to ease foreign travel for work and study, a CANZUK deal offers the perfect way to achieve that: sought by the other parties already, popular across every voter demographic, and consistent with other stated goals. If Conservatives want younger voters, a CANZUK deal is one good way to get them.