For the first time in decades, Britain has the opportunity to truly become a global, outward looking, progressive bastion of freedom and prosperity.
For years, the UK has only really looked as far as the borders of the EU, shackled from embracing her true, international potential. Often mooted as the world’s oldest democracy, we at the Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth are resolute in the belief that we must live up to that label. The Commonwealth is built on the fundamental principles of international partnership, democracy and socio-economic development for all of its members, not simply those with the deepest pockets or neo-colonial ambitions.
The benefits of closer Commonwealth ties are multifaceted, with huge potential economic benefits being just one. The numbers alone paint a resounding argument for the Commonwealth. It is a market of 53 member states and 2.4 billion people - 5 times larger than the EU. Intra-Commonwealth trade is estimated to be pushing close to $1 Trillion USD this year, almost doubling since 2015; it is likely to boom well beyond this as CANZUK comes to fruition. Especially in the case of a no-deal Brexit, it is vital that the UK makes use of this wealth of trading opportunities.
In addition to lucrative potential trade deals with various Commonwealth states, it has also served as a platform for the UK to join and create other economic agreements. Moving forward, CANZUK will likely become one of the world’s foremost trading blocs, with ambitions to expand across the “anglosphere”. It is no coincidence that all of its members are tightly knit Commonwealth powers, the ultimate manifestation of the shared history, values and ambitions that the Commonwealth represents.
The UK is a nation with a history of supporting international development. In a world where battle lines are once again being drawn between the East and West, it is more important than ever that closer ties are found with the developing world. Future superpowers like India and developing nations across Africa and Asia will likely be key players on an increasingly more turbulent geopolitical battleground, the Commonwealth provides ample opportunity to develop Britain's soft power globally whilst simultaneously lifting millions out of poverty and enshrining principles of democracy and human rights. In Eswatini, the Commonwealth is working to reform human rights law so that they meet international standards, in India, the Commonwealth is backing the Out of School Children project and supporting the Disability Conference in the Caribbean. So much moral good can be done through closer ties with the Commonwealth, all whilst simultaneously elevating the UK's reputation and rapport in the international arena.
Despite the clear economic and development case for closer Commonwealth ties, there is a strong emotional argument as well. Unlike the EU’s manufactured sense of identity conjured up by bureaucrats in the 90’s, Commonwealth nations share a rich, intertwined history developed over centuries that is fundamentally built on mutual respect and partnership. Commonwealth nations have fought alongside, against and for each other, there should be no illusion that the history of the relationships between Commonwealth nations have always been peaceful - yet, the Commonwealth proves that allies can be found in the strangest of places, one must only look forward to find them, rather than relentlessly obsess over the sins of the past. This is what those who brand the Commonwealth an exercise in neo-colonialism fail to see - they are often beset by sanctimonious guilt about the evils of generations in centuries past and chapters of history that are, and should always be closed. The
Commonwealth is a true symbol of hope that the past need not dictate the future - a phoenix of progressivism and democracy, born from the ashes of empire and bloodshed.
We, at the Conservative Friends of the Commonwealth, will work tirelessly to promote closer ties with the Commonwealth both within the Conservative party and government. There is an incredible opportunity to make the Commonwealth a core part of the UK’s post Brexit identity, we must not miss it.