How refreshing to see that the British political class has at last woken up to the fact that their Commonwealth links are of immense value.
“Trade in the Commonwealth is booming, with member states collectively exporting more than £1.5 trillion of goods and services each year,” declares Hugo Swire, British Minister of State for the Commonwealth in “The Commonwealth has never been stronger. This great institution promotes trade and freedom – no wonder there’s a queue to join,” in the London Daily Telegraph, 2 January, 2013. He tells of how he met The Queen recently on her visit to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office .
His view is refreshingly different from that of a former Foreign Secretary David Miliband referred to in the ACM column of 22 July 2009,“British politicians question relevance of Commonwealth” . It was not surprising that this former Foreign Secretary who could not see the value of the Commonwealth also closed the Foreign Office library
containing the records of 500 years of Britain’s overseas entanglements, including the original copies of all the relevant treaties, which are part of our shared heritage . This institution was described by Gladstone’s foreign secretary, Lord Granville, as’“the pivot on which the whole machinery of the Office turned’.( See this column, 22 September 2011, “Barbaric near criminal vandalism at the Foreign Office.”
“Research conducted by the Royal Commonwealth Society found that when two trading partners were members, their trade was likely to be a third to a half more than when one or both trade partners was non-Commonwealth. There is clearly the potential to build on this in 2013 and beyond.
“Nearly a third of the world, over two billion people, is made up of Commonwealth citizens. From India, one of the most populous countries, to Nauru, one of the smallest, the Commonwealth family spans every continent and hosts more than 200,000 listed companies. Collectively they have real clout.
“The UK is connected to all of these nations through historical ties but also through our Queen, a strong advocate of the Commonwealth, who in 2012 marked her 60th year as its head. The Royal family unifies the institution, a fact that was most recently shown in the unanimous agreement of Commonwealth realms to amend the Act of Succession. Now the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will succeed to the throne regardless of gender. This is, I think, a symbol of a modernising institution that can move with the times.
“I met the Queen when she visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in December. After a tour of the building she was presented with a book showing all of her Commonwealth visits – more than 150 now – and met staff who work on the modern-day Commonwealth agenda. This demonstrates our continued dedication to building and reinvigorating relationships here. We believe the Commonwealth’s soft power network adds value on the international stage and fulfils a niche role – politically, economically and culturally. “