With leaders of Commonwealth Countries from across the world pouring into London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the British Government is avidly focussed on strengthening the ties with our historical partners.
The Commonwealth is made up of 53 countries and 2.4 billion people – nearly a third of the world’s population but it’s largely been ignored by the British people since the decision was made in 1973 to turn towards the European Economic Community.
Lord Howell, president of the Royal Commonwealth Society and a former minister for the Commonwealth, has said that Britain’s desire to secure trade deals adds a new dynamic to this year’s gathering.
He said: “I think we’ve reached a moment of huge change in Britain’s position in the world and in a sense we are going back to the Commonwealth family.
“For about the last 20 or 30 years there has been no interest at all in the Commonwealth, frankly, in Britain… although we are nominally members of it.
“But for the last two or three years since Brexit there is an enormous search on for new consumer markets and new export destinations.”
The desire to turn back towards our Commonwealth friends is an acknowledgement of the shared values and history we have with many of these countries. But it’s also more than that, it’s an acknowledgement that our countries are still inextricably linked and our people are still connected. There are more Britons living in Australia (over 1.3m) than live in all of the EU states combined. There are a further 600,000 in Canada, and over 300,000 in New Zealand. There are 1.4m Britons of Indian descent in the UK, and a further 110,000 directly employed by Indian-owned businesses.
We are still connected and must use CHOGM 2018 as an avenue to reignite these connections.
John Shepherd, the managing director of the London-based food and drink retailer Patridges, has said it makes little sense for us to just look towards the EU and ignore the Commonwealth.
His business has a royal warrant for supplying the Queen and it has become a Commonwealth Export Champion.
“The world is shrinking, we’re being asked for orders to be sent in the post to Australia, Canada, all around the world, and I never thought it would happen but deliveries have just improved so dramatically in recent years that it’s not an argument anymore.”
The outgoing Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer agrees that the UK needs to look beyond the EU in its future and has pointed out that the EU is not the miracle many Remainers believe it be:
“Britain’s future outside the EU will, above all, depend on the internal decisions future governments and parliaments make. Being in the EU is no guarantee of prosperity. Just ask the Greeks. Nor is being out of the EU a guarantee of economic catastrophe. Switzerland and Norway get by. So do we Australians even though our nearest neighbours are developing countries not wealthy Germany, France and the Netherlands.”
But trade should not be the only thing that Britain focuses on with CHOGM. Trade is only the equivalent of around 25 per cent of Britain’s GDP. It’s the fiscal policies, the structure of the tax system, the flexibility of the labour market and infrastructure which will mean that Britain maintains its attractiveness. Britain should listen to these countries over the course of the meetings; discover what needs to stay and what needs to change in order for us to remain an attractive place of investment to our Commonwealth neighbours.
Britain must be confident over these next fews days, we are still a world leader and we have the potential to drive this group of connected countries.