On 27 June, an extremely rare event took place in central London. The Anglosphere officially took to the stage for a morning of self-aggrandisement. The occasion was the gathering of a panel at the think-tank Policy Exchange to discuss the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, essentially the bedrock of Western defence. Present was an imposing collection of former prime ministers, foreign ministers and other bigwigs from Britain, Australia, Canada, the United States and New Zealand. They all agreed that Five Eyes was invaluable and evidence of the intimate relations that exist between these countries in regard to defence and intelligence. John Howard, the provocative former prime minister of Australia, begged to be forgiven for a bit of ‘Anglosphere triumphalism’. But it was undoubtedly in the air. The panel was effectively celebrating the closest and most enduring coalition of interests in the modern era, arising from the shared endeavours and sacrifices of the Second World War.
Over the past decades, the concept of the Anglosphere fell out of favour in Britain, a country that was supposedly an integral – if never very loyal – member of the EU and an enthusiastic multilateral participant at the UN and in other forums. But that was before Brexit. Now the country is once again in search of a role, as America’s former secretary of state Dean Acheson famously jibed in 1962. Europe was supposed to be a substitute for empire, but now that we have renounced both of these could the Anglosphere provide Britain with a new sense of purpose?
That, roughly, is the question at the heart of Shadows of Empire, written by two academics, Michael Kenny and Nick Pearce. It is a timely tome. Certainly, some pro-Brexit ministers, such as Liam Fox, seem to think that hugging America and the English-speaking world close should be our way forward.