The Coldstream Guards with the Flags of the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 19-4-18.
This article was published on 9 March 2020, which was Commonwealth Day. Commonwealth Day falls on the second Monday of every March and was originally called 'Empire Day'.
Empire Day was introduced in the UK in 1904 by the Anglo-Irish politician Reginald Brabazon, the 12th Earl of Meath, "to nurture a sense of collective identity and imperial responsibility among young empire citizens". In schools, morning lessons were devoted to "exercises calculated to remind (the children) of their mighty heritage". (1)
In this article we advocate some basic economic, cultural and social policies to help strengthen the bonds of the Commonwealth today.
Reginald Brabazon "Patriot and Philanthropist" is commemorated with this statue at Lancaster Gate, London. Pic AFFG 18-6-17.
What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth comprises 54 countries including the UK, across all six inhabited continents. The members have a combined population of almost 2.5 billion people, almost a third of the world population, of which almost 1.4 billion live in India. It contains developed, developing and emerging economies. (2)
All the member countries of the Commonwealth, except Mozambique and Rwanda, are former members of the British Empire, or developed out of former members of the British Empire, or are dependencies of such countries.
Although it is no longer termed "the British Commonwealth" – and although it was rebranded to "the Commonwealth" – it is still undeniably a creation of the United Kingdom and it continues to exist today because the UK is at the heart of it.
It is an institution created by Britain, which exercises a Force for Good in the world today.
Her Majesty the Queen is the official "Head of the Commonwealth", a symbolic role only, which exercises a unifying effect.
Of the 54 countries, the Queen is the official Head of State of 16 of them (including the UK). These are called the Commonwealth Realms.
In addition to the 54 Commonwealth countries there are also 14 British Overseas Territories (BoTs). These are countries which are still within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom (they never left the Empire). The Queen is Head of State of these, as well. (3)
The Scottish Nationalists like to emphasise the worst of the past without realising that today the UK enjoys immense goodwill worldwide, especially among those countries which have this connection to the UK.
The Aim of our Policies
To Reach Out to the Commonwealth and Develop the Massive Goodwill that Exists World-Wide for Britain – the British Wealth that we have in Common – in order that we all may Benefit.
When we speak about developing the Commonwealth we are speaking about looking at ways of developing closer economic, cultural and social ties with the 53 other countries of the Commonwealth, and particularly the 15 Commonwealth Realms where the Queen is Head of State.
In the latter regard, it seems particularly important to support, and favour, those countries where the Queen is the actual Head of State!
How to do that?
a) COMMONWEALTH TRADING PREFERENCES
As we always say, the British economy is one of the largest in the world. It will prosper outside the EU where opportunities abound when we base a programme upon trade with 194 other countries world-wide, instead of only 27 in the EU.
There is no need for any kind of political union. We're talking economics here. Commonwealth countries will naturally be interested in anything which works economically to their advantage; so that's a starting point.
We used to have something called "Commonwealth Preference" prior to the Common Market. It is another trading option which we should explore, and which the UK is well placed to organise. Of course, none of that will stop us continuing to trade with the Continent.
The economist Ruth Lea wrote in 2012:
It has moreover been estimated that business costs are 10-15% lower for Commonwealth countries trading with one another compared with Commonwealth countries trading with non-Commonwealth countries of comparable size and GDP. This benefit, the 'Commonwealth advantage', reflects shared history and commonalities of language, law and business practice. It should act, other things being equal, as a major incentive to intra-Commonwealth trade. (4)
Let's examine the figures.
According to this House of Commons Report published on 6-2-20 in 2018:
- UK exports to the Commonwealth were worth £59.8 billion; British imports from the Commonwealth were £55.5 billion.
- The UK had a trade surplus with the Commonwealth of £4.2 billion – a deficit in goods was more than offset by a surplus in services.
- The Commonwealth accounted for 9.3% of UK exports – roughly the same as UK exports to Germany.
- The Commonwealth accounted for 8.1% of UK imports – roughly the same as UK imports from the Netherlands.
- UK trade with the Commonwealth was heavily focused on five countries – Australia, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa; combined these countries accounted for 73% of UK exports to the Commonwealth and 66% of UK imports from the Commonwealth.
The figure of 9.3% of exports to the Commonwealth compares with 45% of exports to the EU in 2018, according to this House of Commons report on EU trade published on 16-12-19.
Clearly then, trade with the Commonwealth is not any kind of "replacement" for trade with the EU (which will continue anyway). So we have to be realistic!
However, it is possible that deals with Commonwealth countries which were difficult under the EU tariff regime may become more possible now that Britain is out of the EU.
Scottish Speciality Foods have huge potential in the British Diaspora both in the Commonwealth and the USA. Whisky has a massive potential market in India.
What is the first start?