Joining the Club
Written by Lord Howell of Guildford   
Tuesday, 26 March 2013

These days there is a waiting list of countries interested in joining, or being more closely associated with, the Commonwealth. I have a list of at least half a dozen, and even some strong signals from Dublin that they, too, are now thinking about joining the club. How can this be so when we were told so firmly by foreign policy experts in the past century that we should break our ties with the Commonwealth and that our future prosperity and destiny lay in Europe?

One reason is certainly that the Queen has kept the Commonwealth idea alive through years of British disinterest, remarking — with a prescience lacking in some of her then ministers — that it was becoming in many ways the platform of the future, as well as being the ideal soft-power network of the 21st century.

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But an even stronger reason may be in the numbers rather than in the words. The Commonwealth network embraces some of the world’s strongest and most vigorous wealth-generating economies, with the new resource-rich economies of Africa, west and east, coming up fast. UK trade (in goods and especially services) with the Commonwealth expanded by 149 per cent between 2001 and 2011.

Getting relevant Commonwealth figures out of the national statistics these days is hard (perhaps they were airbrushed out after 1972) but totting up, it looks as though inward investment from rich Commonwealth countries is climbing fast, and our earnings from UK investment in Commonwealth countries is second only to America.

So while we of course must remain on the best possible terms with our European neighbours, for the next few decades it is the Commonwealth that is going to provide one of the best gateways to the giant new consumer markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America in which we must succeed to survive.

No wonder new applicants are queuing up to join this increasingly attractive club. The wind of change is blowing in new directions, and as a seafaring nation we need to trim our sails accordingly.


[Lord Howell of Guildford
Chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies in a letter to The Spectator published on 23 March 2013]