09 March 2017, The Tablet

The empire strikes back: how the commonwealth can find a new role post Brexit


Despite being derided as a pointless hangover of our long-gone imperial past, some still believe the Commonwealth can find a new role for itself as Britain prepares to quit the EU

On Monday the Queen, in the company of 800 schoolchildren and assorted dignitaries, will attend a multi-faith service at Westminster Abbey to mark Commonwealth Day. In post-Brexit Britain, the Commonwealth of Nations, that ramshackle totem of former British imperial glory, is open for business.

At a time of continued national disquiet over Europe, the Union Jack-waving jamboree (“Fly the Flag for the Commonwealth!”) may well be welcome. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth is in trouble. Its secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, a Labour peer,  has been accused of financial extravagance and of poor leadership in appointing friends and political allies to key posts. She has denied all the accusations since she took office in April last year, but the Government has drafted in Foreign Office mandarins to keep an eye on things and, along the way, help to modernise the organisation.

The Commonwealth’s governing principle – that people get along better than governments – is a magnificent Anglocentric concept based on ideals of mutual respect, civility and the sanctity of the human individual. But what is the point of the organisation today?

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