People of the Commonwealth are family, not foreigners

The UK puts £350 in to the EU for every £1 it puts into the Commonwealth. What better time to begin redressing that imbalance than Commonwealth Day?

Commonwealth Day: A day to reassess our priorities?
Tim Hewish
On 11 March 2013 09:36

A Happy Commonwealth Day to you all.

I suspect that many of you did not know that today was precisely so. In fact, the whole week is dedicated to all things Commonwealth. This year has been dubbed “Opportunity through enterprise” for those in the Commonwealth, which, given my publication’s vision, very much has my approval. It would seem that the powers that be are slowly moving in the right direction.

For those fortunate enough to be based in London, I warmly recommend that one takes a lunch on Parliament Square, as for one week only, it will be flanked by every national Commonwealth flag: a treat for the vexillologist in all of us.

Surprisingly, since the start of the year there have been a number of welcome developments for the Commonwealth. David Cameron visited India on the biggest British trade mission and pledged that the UK would start to offer same-day visas to Indian businessmen. This is a small fulfillment of my recommendation for a Commonwealth business visa (page 82).

Surely, what is good for India must be good for the 52 remaining nations? Cue shock murmurs from Nigeria that the Commonwealth is planning to introduce a visa-free programme for its members. The Nigerian Foreign Minister was quoted saying:

It used to be that holders of Commonwealth passports could travel within the Commonwealth countries easily without having to go and queue for visas. We are now thinking for ways to ensure that we bring back this tradition.

I have my doubts that this can be realised any time soon, but for Ministers to even be talking about it shows considerable promise. Building on this, I learned that Andrew Rosindell’s Bill for a separate Commonwealth Realms airport queue received support from Australia’s Liberal Party in the lead up to the elections in September. Hopefully with the return of a Conservative government in Australia such ideas will be studied further and fed back to the UK Government.

Even the BBC has shown a vague Commonwealth interest. The Daily Politics interviewed the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec), Sir Don McKinnon. His most thought-provoking point was that the UK puts £350 in to the EU for every £1 it put into the Commonwealth. That can be read two ways: put less into the EU or more into the Commonwealth, despite that fact that the UK’s contribution to ComSec is 60 percent of the total.

Back in Parliament, after much wrangling, MPs who support the Commonwealth were finally granted time to debate the Commonwealth, albeit in Westminster Hall, not on the Floor of the House. This is more a fudge than a victory. The debate itself takes place next Thursday. That said, there has been more fortune in the Lords, which saw the mercurial former Commonwealth Minister, Lord Howell, demonstrate the Commonwealth’s credentials:

The Commonwealth may no longer be Anglocentric, but this is where our interests and influence radiate out and where our readymade UK opportunities truly lie. This is really our Great British repositioning. This must be our strategy and our narrative.

Not everyone yet sees or grasps what has happened, or how a transformed Commonwealth coincides again with our global future and interests and makes for us a vast asset. However, it is here that our energies need to be directed as never before if we want to survive and prosper in a thoroughly dangerous and uncertain world.

I am also buoyed by the fact that next Tuesday, Graham Evans MP is presenting a Bill entitled: National Commonwealth Military Day. He will introduce a Bill for a national day to raise awareness of the contribution of Commonwealth countries to the military action of Great Britain and the Overseas Territories.

The Government’s response to such a Bill will test the pulse of the UK’s commitment to honouring the loss of so much blood and human sacrifice 100 years ago in WWI, at a time when we were all Greater Britons and Commonwealth cousins. We must remember them.

Ultimately, we must press for more action, not words. The UKTI and the British Chamber of Commerce need to be engaged on a Commonwealth footing. That is where a significant number of growing markets are booming, while the EU stagnates.

I need not remind readers that the UK’s trade deficit with the EU is £41bn, £16.8bn of which is with Germany, while an octo-core of Commonwealth nations sees the UK with a £1.6bn trade surplus.

The 2013 Budget will be a defining moment in George Osborne’s Chancellorship; we need it to be radical and export-led. To borrow from Lord Howell, the Commonwealth, with its growing appetite for goods and, importantly, services, must figure prominently in our re-balanced focus.

And what better way to start than Commonwealth Day?

Tim Hewish is the author of Common-Trade, Common-Growth, Common-Wealth. He is a Parliamentary Researcher for a Conservative Member of Parliament and read for a Masters in Imperial & Commonwealth History

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