The role and future of the Commonwealth - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

7  Conclusion

145. We conclude that the Commonwealth benefits from the involvement of the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom benefits from its membership of the Commonwealth. The benefits emerge in many ways, ranging from strong trade and investment links to cultural contacts. Recent profound changes in the balance of global political, diplomatic and economic power have greatly enhanced the prosperity and political influence enjoyed by many Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth clearly could have a bright future.

146. But we are deeply concerned that, despite all these advantages, the Commonwealth is failing to realise its great potential. In recent years it has been too often both silent and invisible: silent on occasions when members flout its principles, and invisible to its people. Too many of the benefits of the Commonwealth are intangible, as we discovered from our evidence sessions and our visits to Commonwealth countries.

147. It is also difficult accurately to measure the benefits of the Commonwealth to its member states including the UK; it is not easy to assess increased influence in the world or to attribute that increase to the Commonwealth rather than to bilateral relationships. We conclude that the FCO's rhetoric about the importance of the Commonwealth is not being matched by its actions. The past closure of diplomatic missions, particularly in the Pacific, cuts to the BBC World Service and changes to the UK visa regime are prime examples. We urge the Government to address this gap between words and deeds.

148. We conclude that the Commonwealth must move quickly along the road to reform if it is to make the most of its natural advantages and demonstrate its value to its members. We expect the UK to play a prominent role in this process, and to show that it can match its pro-Commonwealth rhetoric with effective action. If the Commonwealth takes the right decisions in the next few months, we are confident that it can protect and promote its values and benefit the interests of all of its members, including Britain.

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Prepared 15 November 2012