I have always held a strong belief in the Commonwealth of Nations who have always been our traditional friends and allies and in many cases, can be accurately described as our extended family. So what a travesty it is that so little has been done by successive governments to realise the full potential of the nations of the Commonwealth, choosing instead to focus on the never ending drive towards integrating with the European Union. What folly!
The capacity for building Commonwealth trade, which could potentially stretch across every continent of the globe, is perhaps the area that has suffered most from this neglect.
There are currently fifty three nations which belong to the Commonwealth family, from the old Dominions of Canada, New Zealand and Australia to the newest member, Rwanda (which joined in 2009); it spans every time zone and yields a combined GDP of over £6.341 trillion.
In addition there are sixteen British Overseas Territories from Gibraltar to the Falkland Islands, Bermuda to Pitcairn and Montserrat to St. Helena, along with the five Crown Dependencies, of the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark) and the Isle of Man.
The English speaking world is the most powerful collection of nations on earth, I believe the time has come to harness that power to extend opportunities for trade and create the wealth our people need.
The nations of the Commonwealth comprise a broad geography, dotted on all spectrums of the development index, including some of the largest producers of raw materials, as well as a broad range of manufacturing and service industries.
Combined with this rich diversity, we are all wonderfully tied together by a shared history, heritage and language, a common legal system and a rule of law and many nations and territories continue to share with us, Her Majesty The Queen as their Sovereign too.
Now whilst we all recognise the importance of our trade relationship with our European neighbours as individual states, the idea that somehow we must forever have a euro-centric trade focus is simply outdated and wrong.
Nor should the Commonwealth and our European trade be seen as mutually exclusive. They should complement each other.
We run a trade deficit with the EU of £62 billion, but a trade surplus of £10.7bn with the Commonwealth. In terms of specific Commonwealth countries, Australia is our second largest surplus (behind the USA) at £5.211bn. Singapore and Malaysia have a combined surplus of £3.162bn and South Africa is £1.215bn. Therefore, it makes sense to balance one with the other. More Commonwealth trade doesn’t mean less trade with European states.
Britain is surely in a unique position to concentrate on developing the potential for trade which exists beyond the continent of Europe and we should not be held back from doing so. Particularly when the chief sceptics of this proposal tend to submit to a completely outdated post war federal European agenda, where the power of nation states to decide any national policy is disregarded.
And to all those who think that adopting a different relationship with the EU would put us on the periphery of Europe, I say to them, NO – it would place us on the doorstep of the world.
But this point runs much deeper, with increased Commonwealth trade and co-operation comes a whole host of benefits.
The idea of a Commonwealth Investment bank might also cultivate projects in emerging markets and a Commonwealth Business Visa could promote a trans-regional investor environment.
On this note, I believe that a few simple changes to our border policy would also provide a friendlier reception for Commonwealth citizens entering the United Kingdom.
As it stands, our current border policy is dictated to us by Brussels who see the ‘free movement’ of people as a fundamental pillar. As a result, the UK is unable to determine how many people from Europe can come into the country. Whilst citizens from the rest of the world are put through strenuous testing to ensure they meet the needs of our country, citizens with an EU passport are able to settle in the United Kingdom without any control.
With immigration being a top concern amongst the British electorate, this current arrangement is perverse. It is bad law and prevents our own government from addressing the concerns of the British people. It is equally concerning that we are potentially alienating some of the world’s finest citizens, for the sake of the EU.
I would therefore support having our sovereign right to complete border control returned. For those that may remember, I have promoted the “United Kingdom Borders Bill” asking for recognition at the border for Commonwealth Realms where H.M. The Queen is Head of State – which would allow people from those fifteen nations the right to enter UK passport control in the same channel as the British. This would generate a tremendous amount of goodwill; boosting tourism and trade by making it easier to move between all of Her Majesty’s Realms and Territories.
If the UK Government regained full control over our own borders and the number of people moving to the country, then we could have a fair immigration policy to all, giving at least as good an opportunity to Commonwealth citizens to live and work in Britain as we do to those from Europe.
As the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU intensifies over the coming months, it can only be positive argument to use that increased Commonwealth trade would be a good outcome if we were to end political union with Europe. The time has come to break down the barriers that currently exist and to demonstrate what a bright future Britain and the Commonwealth could have, we only need to be grasp the opportunity and do what Britain has always done throughout our history, be bold and fear nothing!
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