Shortly before Commonwealth Day on 12 March this year, the House of Commons held a debate on the topic ‘The Modern Commonwealth: Opportunities and Challenges’.
The Chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) UK branch, James Duddridge, presented the motion on 7 March. He highlighted the CPA work taking place from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in London in 2018 to the next CHOGM, scheduled to be held in Rwanda in two years’ time.
He told the House of Commons that “one of the things I very much hope to do is to work with the Rwandans to have a Commonwealth forum.”
“CHOGM is dominated by the Executives, and we in the UK felt that parliamentarians should lobby the Executives. Parliamentarians from around the Commonwealth came together to talk, and then went back to our Executives before CHOGM to lay out the issues we cared about, and that was powerful. It was not perfect, and we have lessons to learn on what we did with the parliamentary forum. Almost 50 parliamentarians met about a month before CHOGM here in the UK, and this is something we would like the Rwandans to do,” he added.
On Brexit and Commonwealth trade, Mr Duddridge said: “The Commonwealth is not the solution to any problems or the definition of any Brexit opportunities, but the Commonwealth currently represents 9% of UK exports.
“By various measures, there is an advantage to it: doing business with the Commonwealth is easier, and there is a shared language, history and legal system. It makes sense, and it is easier, to trade intra-Commonwealth and with the Commonwealth. Overall, Commonwealth trade represents 14% of the global economy, so as we look at trade deals post Brexit, we should pay particular attention to the Commonwealth. Clearly it is not as simple as having one Commonwealth deal, but we should look first to the Commonwealth and then to the rest of the world.”
Members debated the UK as the current Chair-in-Office, the need for UK parliamentarians to discuss the Commonwealth more frequently, a vision for the Commonwealth, Brexit, Rwanda preparations, Commonwealth trade, climate change and the role of forums at Commonwealth summits.
The debate from Hansard TV [click on the black button to the right for a full screen]:
Commonwealth Day: A disconnected UK in a connected Commonwealth