Even our relationship with countries like Australia and Canada, while still close, have been strained by our European-centric approach, with true co-operation on the world stage reduced.
Unfortunately, even less attention has been paid to many of the other members of the Commonwealth, especially those in Africa, the Caribbean and parts of Asia, some of which are now the fastest growing economies in the world.
Despite our clear and historic connection to these Commonwealth countries, our recent EU membership resulted in us being forced into treating them as some sort of pariahs, unable to do trade deals with them because it would have breached EU protectionism rules.
This was never the intention of the UK when we originally joined the European Economic Community (EEC) back in 1973. It was supposed to simply be a trading partnership.
This disconnect from the Commonwealth has had clear consequences over the past few decades. Not only have UK businesses been unable to take advantage of strong cultural similarities in many Commonwealth countries, but UK consumers have also been deprived of extra choice of goods available in UK shops.
What’s more, this lack of engagement has meant others have poured into countries like Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria, to take advantage of the opportunities. Prime among these has been China, which instead of simply sending financial aid as the UK has done, has built infrastructure and bought goods.
However, the cost to these nations for this investment is clear. Investment will only be received if, in return, a country does not criticise China or the atrocities they commit, in other words – blackmail.
This is a scenario we cannot allow to continue. Now the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Union and free from its constrictions, our unique relationship with Commonwealth countries should flourish, along with a renewed aspiration towards a more ‘Global Britain’.
It is not too late to undo much of the damage which has been done, whilst also improving the economic prospects of both the Commonwealth as well as the UK.
However, this is not about funnelling billions more taxpayers’ money into some of the phoney foreign aid projects which are allowed to go ahead without due diligence in some countries.
We should fully re-assess our approach to the Commonwealth and many other developing nations which the Government has unfortunately ignored for so long.
Instead, there should be real engagement and beneficial trade and investment agreements with these countries, meaning we finally give them a ‘hand-up’ rather than ‘hand-outs’.
One of the most basic ways the UK Government could begin this shift of focus away from Europe and towards the Commonwealth is to push on further with the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to the developing world, or help them to manufacture their own.
While this is undoubtedly a form of aid – unlike so much of the billions of pounds we send abroad – these vaccines are far easier to target and can make a meaningful impact on the lives of normal people. When they have vaccines on hand, countries will be able to get back to normal more quickly and have a workforce able to drive forward their economies.
Such action would do far more for both the UK’s global reputation and the Commonwealth than any commitment to 0.7 per cent of GDP spending going towards foreign aid as some backbench Conservative MPs (including former Prime Minister Theresa May) want to reintroduce.
The Commonwealth and the United Kingdom have much to offer each other. For too long we have been afraid to embrace our history, but now we must not miss out on opportunities to support our real and historic friends in pushing on with a truly ‘Global Britain’ which can lead on moral and economic questions on the world stage.
Such an approach from the Prime Minister would finally give him a chance to cement his legacy as the Prime Minister who delivered on Brexit and helped to push the UK into a new era of relations with the Commonwealth.
Jayne Adye is the director of the leading grassroots, cross-Party, Eurosceptic campaign Get Britain Out.
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