#1
With Britain leaving the European Union, her future lies with the Commonwealth...

PETER OBORNE: Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with our true friends


By Peter Oborne For The Daily Mail
4 March 2017


Building bridges: Theresa May and Indian PM Narendra Modi

For a moment, imagine France is the kingpin of a huge international body made up of 53 sovereign states, containing a third of the world’s population. Imagine, too, that all these countries feel a deep affection for France and share a common history dating back centuries.

In addition, suppose these countries, including many of the most dynamic and fast-growing nations in the world, had adopted the French legal system, and that their business and political elites speak fluent French.

If this were the case, you could be certain the French would make the most of such a brilliant national asset, treating it with respect and continuing to forge the closest possible alliance.

Unfortunately for the French, who over the years cruelly mistreated their colonial subjects, no such organisation exists.

However, the British are part of such a body. It is called the Commonwealth. Yet our leaders are guilty of treating it with scorn and contempt.

Over the past four decades, our governments have shamefully ignored the benefits of the Commonwealth. Successive Prime Ministers from Edward Heath onwards have been blind to its economic, cultural and social value.

It is no coincidence that those decades of disgraceful neglect have coincided with Britain’s membership of the EU.

Part of the reason for this lies with the ridiculous sense of self-loathing felt by British liberals on account of our former Empire. Crippled by a post-imperial cringe, they have idiotically preferred the sclerotic, statist conformity of a German-dominated Europe to the exciting potential of the Commonwealth that shares many of our beliefs.

Only the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, has taken the organisation seriously. Indeed, she considers her nurturing of this magnificent institution her greatest achievement.

She knows all of its members’ leaders and their families personally. In many cases, she knew their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents. She takes an intense interest in their countries and their people.

Compare her affection and respect with the institutional contempt of the Foreign Office.

Despite its official title as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, its personnel have long behaved as if the Commonwealth were unworthy of their attention.

A tiny number of officials manage Commonwealth affairs. How telling that they are dwarfed by the number involved with the EU.

Responsibility for the Commonwealth is often given to obscure, low-ranking ministers who carry little clout in Whitehall.



The current Minister of State for the Commonwealth is Baroness Anelay, a former history teacher who was ennobled after working in a senior post with the Citizens Advice Bureau. Though a thoroughly decent and hard-working peer, I bet 99 per cent of the population have never heard of her.

Her low profile is a great pity because, as the Government prepares to navigate a post-Brexit world, it will be vital to exploit our relationship with our true friends.

For Britain’s future wellbeing will depend greatly on the booming Commonwealth. Indeed, its economy overtook the eurozone’s in 2013 and all the core so-called Anglosphere countries are witnessing excellent growth.

Yet British ministers consistently sideline our Commonwealth colleagues. For example, a group of education ministers from around the world recently attended a two-day meeting in London. Instead of welcoming them, Education Secretary Justine Greening rudely sent her deputy, who stayed an hour or so, then left. Such narrow-mindedness and bad manners makes me want to scream.

This short-sighted attitude was, I believe, inherited from the Cameron government.

Typical was George Osborne. Once, he attended an International Monetary Fund meeting when Commonwealth finance ministers were gathering for an important summit nearby. Yet Osborne refused to acknowledge their presence.

Brexit will inevitably involve a complicated divorce from the EU, which is why it would be insanity not to cherish our ancient ties to the Commonwealth. Next week offers a perfect opportunity to build bridges. Thirty-five Commonwealth trade ministers are due to meet 60 chairmen and chief executives from leading British companies in London (typically, I’m told the Foreign Office tried to obstruct the event).

Meanwhile, it seems that Theresa May, for her part, has wisely made a move that could greatly improve Britain’s links with our fellow Commonwealth states. She has appointed a senior official to take charge of Commonwealth affairs from inside the Cabinet Office —taking over responsibility from the Foreign Office, which has proved unfit for the job.

Pressure for the change came from Lord Marland (a successful businessman) and Tory former ministers Lord (Richard) Luce and Baron (David) Howell.

Significantly, next week sees the republication of the memoirs of Howell (who is George Osborne’s father-in-law and was abruptly sacked by David Cameron as Commonwealth Minister despite being asked to repair relations between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth).

His book is the culmination of his lifetime mission to put the Commonwealth at the heart of British foreign policy. Howell attacks the Foreign Office’s ‘genuflection to the U.S., its obsession with Europe and, above all, the terrible neglect of ‘the rest of the world, the emerging markets, the great booming economies and gigantic new cities of Asia’.

With Mrs May as Prime Minister, I am convinced that after years of neglect, Government policy is changing and it is ready to seize the opportunities the Commonwealth can provide to Britain.

Indeed, countries such as India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand offer the UK much more long-term potential than continental Europe.

Crucially, they are better attuned to the demands of the 21st century than is the EU, which is suffocated by regulation.

The Commonwealth’s diverse membership is bound together by informal networks and shared values rather than by stifling rules imposed by a corrupt and unaccountable Brussels Commission. It celebrates free markets, not trade barriers. It stretches right across the globe.

Thanks to Brexit, Britain has a huge opportunity to engage properly again with this vast and booming trading bloc that represents most of the world’s leading English-speaking democracies.

Read more: Brexit offers us the chance to reunite with true friends | Daily Mail Online
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter (external - login to view) | DailyMail on Facebook (external - login to view)