The debate of Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union (EU) is entering its final stages. Many people have already posted their postal votes, the British government has posted its pamphlet explaining the government’s position, the Electoral Commission has posted its impartial guide to the EU referendum and people are planning their day to get to their polling stations.
The voting for the referendum has been restricted to British, Irish and Commonwealth nationals as per the restrictions during a general election, as no doubt equal voting rights to EU nationals would skew the results of a referendum that will change the face of Britain, and her relationship with the world, far into the future.
It is the Commonwealth’s role in this referendum that I wish to discuss.
The Society believes that Britain’s continuing membership of the EU is stifling improvements in the relationship between the Commonwealth and the British people.
Before Britain entered what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) assurances were made to the Commonwealth by the Macmillan and Heath governments that their relationship with Britain would not suffer. They were told Britain was only joining a “common market”, now single market, and that through Britain’s membership the Commonwealth would benefit.
During the 50s and 60s Britain’s application to join the EEC was repeatedly rejected. At the 1963 press conference in Paris Charles De Gaulle said,
“[T]he question…[is] whether Great Britain can now place herself like the Continent and with it inside a tariff which is genuinely common, to renounce all Commonwealth preferences, to cease any pretence that her agriculture be privileged, and, more than that, to treat her engagements with other countries of the free trade area as null and void — that question is the whole question.”
Reading this you would not be wrong to suggest that Britain made her bed and must now suffer the consequences. That she put the Commonwealth second to her economic wellbeing and therefore shouldn’t expect loyalty or salvation from the family that she turned her back on, but that is looking at the situation from the wrong perspective.
The Commonwealth is not a political union. Some of us may want it to be so, but at this present moment it isn’t. It isn’t a trading bloc or a free trade area. It is a family of sovereign independent nations who voluntarily associate themselves with each other under a shared figurehead, or, in the case of the realms, a shared head of state.
The Commonwealth shares a bond that few other organisations or associations have, or on the same kind of scale. Families literally intertwine with the history of the Commonwealth due to mass emigration (through choice or force), settling and trade.
The 23rd June 2016 is Britain’s final D-day. This is a final rallying call to all those eligible to vote in the referendum and those who can influence those who are voting to vote to leave the European Union. Britain’s enemy this time is not a rival Empire, or an evil dictatorial regime – both of these can at least be seen. Instead, Britain’s enemy is a treasonous, corrupt undercurrent of politicians and business leaders who are prepared to sell the British people and their rights to an institution that makes no secret of its intentions. Apathy and ignorance on the part of British voters is also the enemy as we voted these people in. It was the British people that believed Macmillan and Heath the first time around.
We, the British people, may not fully know it but we need our Commonwealth family to save us, from ourselves. We are our worst enemy.
So, what could be so bad if Britain remained a full member of the EU? Why should the Commonwealth be even the slightest bit bothered? The EU is a template for other parts of the world. There has already been talk of the North American Free Trade Agreement becoming a North American Union. Canada would be in the same position Britain is now. The Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean would probably join this same union with loss of the sovereignty they fought so hard to gain from Britain.
Unless Britain shows the world that she is prepared to risk it all and go it alone again then you will find that the Commonwealth will lose her strength as nations are slowly will be stripped of their sovereignty as they join similar unions.
The battle for Britain in this referendum is the Commonwealth’s chance to make a stand for our shared way of life. Our common law systems, systems of government, language, traditions and culture.
If the Commonwealth can make one final push to help influence the vote, to let the British people know that things will be okay, then we might stand a chance at winning.
Vice Chair, UK Council Representative
22 June 2016