Since The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on 23 June this year, speculation has grown on how this will affect the Commonwealth. The RCS London, in a statement following the referendum, urged that the UK should ensure that ‘the Commonwealth potential ... is integrated into all debates on the future of Britain’s foreign and domestic policy’.
A month later, the RCS held a meeting of Commonwealth organisations in London, in the first of a series of roundtable discussions, on the challenges and opportunities associated with Brexit, hosted by the Royal Overseas League and chaired by RCS Director Michael Lake. Described as a ‘Commonwealth Conversation’, the meeting addressed three broad questions: the likely impact on, and opportunities for, the UK’s relations with other Commonwealth members, the challenges and opportunities that Brexit creates for the Commonwealth network, and the ways in which the Commonwealth would want to engage with the EU through and beyond Brexit negotiations.
Overall, the meeting concluded that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would potentially have a negative impact on the Commonwealth, but as the UK reorientated its foreign policy priorities, new opportunities would be created.
The meeting noted that international trade was one of the biggest potential areas of opportunity for Commonwealth countries, especially with many emerging markets in the Commonwealth. Another way BREXIT could impact Commonwealth relations would be the UK’s capacity in overseas development assistance when freed of contributions to the European Development Fund. Areas of concern expressed by many participants included the threat to the Commonwealth through racist intolerance stirred up by the referendum. Other opportunities foreshadowed included a freeing up of the UK’s unpopular visa regime for Commonwealth citizens, including the UK extending a two-year business and tourism visa to Indian nationals.
Two recent research papers published by the Commonwealth Secretariat warn that key industries in some Commonwealth nations could be badly affected by the referendum decision. A paper on trade implications by the head of the Secretariat’s international trade policy section, Dr Mohammad Razzaque, suggested that uncertainties caused by Brexit could weaken the chances of world economic recovery with severe implications for many developing and least-developed countries for whom the EU provides special trade deals. If the UK does not provide additional provisions, these countries could face annual export duties of more than £600 stg.
Matthew Neuhaus, Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe 2011-2015.