Global Britain and the 2018 Commonwealth Summit Contents

1The FCO’s strategic vision for the Summit and the UK’s tenure as Chair

The Summit and its goals

3.In November 2017, the Foreign Secretary told the House that the Summit would “be one of the biggest summits that the UK has ever hosted” and that “we want a great celebration for the Commonwealth that is underpinned by real substance”. He also spoke about some of the main topics that would be discussed: young people, and girls’ education in particular; the legacy of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka; and Zimbabwe’s possible readmission to the Commonwealth. He added that “free trade deals and the prospect of increased trade with our Commonwealth friends and partners” would be “at the heart of the Summit”.2

4.The Foreign Secretary further elaborated on his vision for the Summit in an article published in The Sunday Express on 12 March 2018. In it, he said: “I hope this will be a uniquely memorable gathering, showing just how much importance Britain attaches to the Commonwealth”. He also said that key themes of the Summit would be “how to boost trade within the Commonwealth”, improving security co-operation, taking joint action to protect the world’s oceans, and ensuring 12 years of quality education and learning for children across the Commonwealth. This range of topics was, the Foreign Secretary said, “yet more proof of the value of the Commonwealth”.3 The Foreign Secretary also spoke about these themes when he appeared before us on 21 March.4

5.When Lord Ahmad appeared before us, we asked him how the Government would judge the success of the Summit. He said that every Commonwealth Head of Government was expected to attend and that this in itself would be one of the metrics of its success. Beyond this, he stressed that the agenda of the Summit and the decisions taken during it would be based on consensus among the 53 Heads of Government and that, as host, the UK was not in a position to dictate either. But he said that the Prime Minister was “very keen that we see specific progress on the issues that matter to people across the Commonwealth: trade, education, security and indeed climate change”, and that the Government hoped that discussions around trade deals could begin at the Summit, even if they could not be signed.5

The goals of the UK’s tenure as Chair-in-Office

6.Lord Ahmad told us that the “youth agenda” would be a particular priority during the UK’s two-year tenure as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth and that “we want to get a broad commitment on 12 years of quality education, particularly for young women and girls”.6 On the same day, he told the House of Lords that the Government’s priorities as Chair would “reflect what will be decided during the course of the Heads of Government meeting itself”, but that issues such as trade, empowerment and education, cyber-crime and climate change were likely to be reflected in the two-year agenda. He did not, however, specify what the UK aimed to achieve as Chair-in-Office and what metrics would be used to judge success in 2020.7

7.We welcome the Government’s ambition to deliver the largest ever Commonwealth Summit. But the Summit is simply the start of a process. During the Summit, the UK will become the Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, a position it will hold until 2020. It is not solely for the UK as host of the Summit or as Chair-in-Office to dictate the agenda and direction of the Commonwealth, which is an organisation based on consensus among its 53 members. But the UK will have a unique position of leadership and influence. It is imperative that the UK starts its tenure as Chair-in-Office with clear aims for what it wants to achieve by 2020. This demands a credible strategy, with specific objectives and metrics for success.

8.In its response to this Report, the FCO should provide the Committee with a statement of its priorities and objectives for the UK’s tenure as Chair-in-Office, and the metrics it will use to judge success when the UK hands over the Chair to Malaysia in 2020. In April 2019, the FCO should provide the Committee with a mid-term account of progress thus far. This should take into account the priorities of the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies. The devolved administrations should also be consulted, as appropriate.

9.The FCO should consider the feasibility during the UK’s tenure as Chair-in-Office of launching an online Commonwealth news channel to broadcast news coverage from Commonwealth national broadcasters. The FCO should report its conclusions to the Committee by 3 September 2018.

2 HC Deb 21 November 2017, col 836

3 Foreign Secretary’s article in The Sunday Express, 12 March 2018

4 Oral evidence taken on 21 March 2018, HC (2017–19) 538, Q280

5 Q5, Q15

6 Q1

7 HL Deb 20 February 2018, col 10

Published: 5 April 2018