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Realm Union in Action: Nordic Council

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A new series exploring, analysing and discussing examples of a “Realm Union in action” or discussing possible concepts and ideas from other sources. Click here to read previous articles in the series.

Stepping outside of the Commonwealth for this issue I want to explore the concept and beginnings of the Nordic Council.

Inaugurated in 1953 (initially proposed in 1951) the Nordic Council is an inter-parliamentary forum for the Nordic countries. It was formed after WWII and quickly introduced a common labour market, the Nordic Passport Union and a common travel area among Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In 1971 a Nordic Council of Ministers was introduced to work alongside the council.

The 87 members of the Nordic Council are elected from the parliaments of the member countries in a system similar to that used by the European Parliament up to 1979.

The Nordic Council was able to form so quickly due to the historical, cultural, lingual and legal connections between them, but also because of the absence of other bodies and organisations with restrictive conditions. Taken from the report “Together or Apart – The Nordic Council and the EU”, “…the strength of the Nordic Council to be the historical, cultural and societal similarity of its member countries. Familiarity with northern conditions is cited as a further strength. Shared values and a common background for the basis of the NC’s activities and reinforce cohesion.” Later issues would arise with Finland due to their proximity to Russia and Denmark and Norway’s interests in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

The organisation now has five full members (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), three associate members (the self-governing territories of Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland), and four observer members (sovereign nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the federal German state of Schleswig-Holstein). This composition of sovereign nations, self-governing territories and other interested and/or related states is a really good example that the Realm Union can follow.

Flags of the Nordic Council. Photographer skanephoto.com/norden.org

Flags of the Nordic Council. Photographer skanephoto.com/norden.org

With the mixture of realms, overseas territories, dependencies, states, provinces, and home nations, if the federal German state of Schleswig-Holstein can be included in the Nordic Council along with the associate and observer members then I am confident that a Realm Union would be a success.

Exploring the early history of the council it is exciting to see how much was achieved in a short space of time. Social security, movement of people, passport standards, a proposed single market, public health and cultural initiatives were all included.

Unfortunately, as what happened with Britain since the 1970s, the European Economic Community (EEC), then later European Union (EU), started to unravel or supersede the agreements made in the council. The Nordic Passport Union for example, was taken over by the Schengen Agreement, but it is still valid for those members that are outside of the European Economic Area.

The Together or Apart report highlights some of the council’s weaknesses, and these same weaknesses are being experienced by the wider Commonwealth of Nations and will be experienced by the smaller Realm Union. Lack of political clout, bureaucracy, going round in circles with issues, external organisations taking priority, avoidance of hard issues are currently undermining the Nordic Council. These weaknesses would need to be addressed in any future union of the Commonwealth realms.

Despite the integration of the majority of the Nordic members into the EU the Nordic Council may still have a future. Some calls have been made for the council to federate the Nordic countries to make one large economic powerhouse (not too dissimilar to calls made to federate the CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, UK) countries or the Commonwealth realms, however, there is currently little interest among the average Scandinavian to move away from the small sovereign state.

When researching this piece what came across to me was the ease with which the council has been able to accommodate the different circumstances of each member while still maintaining the whole. When Sweden wished to remain neutral in defence matters, Denmark and Norway were still able to join NATO. When the newly independent Baltic States emerged from the USSR their interest was rewarded with observer status. When the EU members joined the Schengen area, Greenland was able to maintain the common travel area, albeit with some modifications.

Flag of the Nordic Council

Flag of the Nordic Council

The biggest point to make about the Nordic Council is that as well as a name that does a really good job at describing who they are, the Nordic Council has not eroded any of the traditions, tones or sovereignty of the members. Each one is still as patriotic as they have always been and all still wave their respective flags proudly. This then is further evidence to give to any naysayers that a Realm Union, Realm Council, Council of the Realms or similar would not have to undermine the sovereignty of the members.

The “Realm Union in action” series will be updated as our work progresses. I am very excited to have this opportunity to explore in more detail the Society’s proposals and ideas and hope that after reading them it gives our members and supporters hope for the future.

Jon-Paul Teasdale – Vice-Chair and United Kingdom Representative

References: www.norden.org ; www.wikipedia.com ; Together or Apart – The Nordic Council and the EU, Karina Jutila & Terhi Tikkala 2009

Possible terms: Realm Union; Realm Council; United Realms; Council of the Realms

Our Connected Commonwealth Culture

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Written by our Northern Ireland Officer Andrew Wright.

For centuries Ireland has provided some of the British Empire’s greatest statesmen, soldiers and pioneers.  The following is a short summary of a selection of the most prominent of Ireland’s sons of yesteryear, whose influence spanned the globe.

When New Zealand was established in 1840 the northern island was designated as “New Ulster” with the southern island designated “New Munster”, in honour of the Irish Provinces where the Governor of New Zealand, Captain William Hobson, was born.  This state of affairs lasted until 1853 when those names were changed.

John Ballance was the 14th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1891 to 1893 and was the founder of the Liberal Party, the country’s first organised political party.  He was born in 1839 in County Antrim and migrated to New Zealand in 1866.  During fighting the following year Ballance was involved in the raising of a Volunteer Cavalry Troop in which he received a Commission and was subsequently awarded the New Zealand medal for his actions.

John Ballance, New Zealand Prime Minister 1891 - 1893.

John Ballance, New Zealand Prime Minister 1891 – 1893.

A contemporary of Ballance was William Ferguson Massey, often known as Farmer Bill, who was the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1912 to 1925.  He founded his own party, the Reform party as well as being the second longest serving Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history.  Massey was born in 1856 in County Londonderry and migrated to New Zealand in 1870. The First World War reinforced Massey’s strong belief in the British Family of Nations and New Zealand’s position within it.  On the outbreak of war in 1914 Massey, as New Zealand Prime Minister, cabled London stating “All we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British Government”.

William Ferguson Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister 1856-1925.

William Ferguson Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister 1856 – 1925.

Throughout this period the Irish also made their mark on Australia, with some making the long journey south in search of a better life and many receiving a one way ticket courtesy of Her Majesty’s Government!  The famous Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast tells the story of local prisoners “migrating” to Australia.   The restored 1845 prison is well worth a visit and not just to sample the products from the whiskey distillery within the prison which carries on the illegal tradition of whiskey distilling among the convicts!  Convicts and convict settlements were a feature of Australian society for nearly a century until the Transportation system was progressively withdrawn and Government assisted migration schemes took their place.   Some of these migrants’ stories have taken root in the Australian psyche, such as the infamous Kelly gang who did their best to uphold the rebel Irish tradition.   Other migrants brought with them memories of their homeland, immortalising their names in places such as Hillsborough and Londonderry in New South Wales and Coleraine in Victoria.

Frederick Blackwood, first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava was Governor General of Canada from 1872 until 1878.  In 1874 a decision was made to establish a Military college at Kingston, Ontario.  Dufferin tried to ensure a leading British Officer with a strong professional ethos became Commandant, rather than the usual patronage appointment.  To his mind this was the best way of affirming Canadian nationality and maintaining British ties.  In 1875 Dufferin oversaw the first major revision of the British North America Act allowing the Canadian Parliament to follow new British Parliamentary practice on examination rather than being limited by British custom as it stood in 1867.  Once again Dufferin ensured both Imperial ties and Canadian national sentiment were enhanced, further promoting his interest in the development of the British Family of Nations.

Lord Dufferin Governor General of Canada 1872-1878.

Lord Dufferin Governor General of Canada 1872-1878.

Ireland was the cradle of modern policing with the establishment of the City of Dublin police force in 1786 creating the first organised, trained and uniformed police force.   This process eventually lead to the first organised national police force in 1822 called the Constabulary of Ireland, closely followed by the establishment of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.  In 1867 the Constabulary was granted the Royal prefix and became the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), growing to almost 9000 personnel.  As the first Royal police force in the Empire and with its highly disciplined and organised structure it became the model for police forces in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and many other parts of the Empire.  The military ethos of the RIC with its army terminology, barracks, carbines, emphasis on army style drill and smartness in uniform distinguished the force from civic police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom while proving more suited to local conditions across the Empire.

Royal Canadian Mounties escorting HM The Queen.

Royal Canadian Mounties escorting HM The Queen.

The famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police was one of many police forces to be based on the RIC model.  Until 1936 officers in Colonial forces across the Empire were trained by the RIC and after the partition of Ireland its successor the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).   The RUC in turn was succeeded by the current Police Service of Northern Ireland which retains the distinctive dark green uniform of the RIC, itself derived itself from the Rifle Brigade of the British Army.

From the past to the present the Home Nations continues to supply politicians to the British family of Nations in all corners of the globe.  The most high profile of these was the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was born in London to a British father and an Australian mother.  At the age of three his family migrated to Australia in 1960.  This is not entirely a one way street as the former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales was the Australian Natalie Bennett.

Andrew Wright

Northern Ireland Officer

Statute of Westminster Day 11th December

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On the 11th December 1931 the Statute of Westminster was signed into the British statute books. 

… It is hereby declared and enacted that the Parliament of a Dominion has full power to make laws…

The act contained within it the requirement for the Dominions, later Realms, to seek agreement among each other on the laws of succession and titles. 

It is this act that forms the basis of the sovereignty of the Realms and their relationship with the Crown. 

Connect & Support

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Connect with us and help support our goal uniting the Commonwealth Realms and emboldening the Commonwealth.

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Become a member of the Society at www.unitedcommonwealthsociety.org/membership

Visit and like our Facebook page www.facebook.com/UnitedCommonwealthSociety

Visit and follow our Twitter feed twitter.com/unitedcwsociety

Visit and follow our Google+ page https://plus.google.com/u/0/104480722699018603859

Our Mission Statement

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Uniting the Realms. Emboldening the Commonwealth

“We believe the Commonwealth Realms should form a union for the benefit of their peoples.”

“We believe the Commonwealth is a force for good in the world and should be renewed and strengthened to safeguard its future.”

Join the Society for free today at www.unitedcommonwealthsociety.org to show your support.

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Realm Union in Action: British-Irish Council

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A new series exploring, analysing and discussing examples of a “Realm Union in action” or discussing possible concepts and ideas from other sources.

Our first concept and example of a “Realm Union in action” is the little known British-Irish Council. Their Twitter background states, “…eight Governments working together on key areas of mutual interest. UK, IRL, SCO, WAL, NI, IOM, GSY, JSY.”

Formed by the international British-Irish Agreement 2nd December 1999, between the British and Irish governments, its stated aim is to, “promote the harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands.”

Following the turbulent relations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, the British-Irish Council is quite possibly one of the greatest examples of governments working together for peace, prosperity and harmony.

It is this setting that it is such a good example that the Commonwealth Realms can follow. If two governments with such differences of opinion can successfully work together then why could a similar Realm Union, Realm Council or United Realms not work for the mutual benefit of Her Majesty’s peoples?

The basic operation of the council is the same as that proposed as an early stage in the Society’s proposals. The heads of the nine governments meet at bi-annual summits with additional ad hoc ministerial meetings attended by appropriate ministers and representatives depending on the topic being discussed. A standing secretariat is based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Despite impressions given in the media the recent referendum result in Britain was discussed at an extraordinary summit meeting in July 2016. Issues such as the border with Britain and Ireland were discussed and agreements made that there would be no need for a “hard border”. The frenzy stirred in the media about what would happen post-brexit at the border therefore was grossly overstated.

Taking this example forward a “Council of the Realms” could meet annually or bi-annually to discuss mutual issues such as the economy, trade, common realms travel area, employment, defence and many more. Prime ministers of each realm can look forward to meeting their counterparts and building further their relationships. Throughout the year ministers of similar ministries can meet to further discussion common areas of interest. Then at Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings or even international bodies such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation, the Commonwealth Realms can show a unified approach to issues and add weight to decisions.

United Commonwealth Realms passport - Barbados

The Realm Union could discuss common passport standards and designs. [Credit R. Moore, UCS Member]

What I believe is one of the British-Irish Council’s best features is that it has allowed the devolved administrations and Crown Dependencies to have a regular say in affairs. This same feature can be applied in a Realm Union or CANZUK (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom) set up. The dependencies and overseas territories, and if desired, Australian states and Canadian provinces, could be represented.

The “Realm Union in action” series will be updated as our work progresses. I am very excited to have this opportunity to explore in more detail the Society’s proposals and ideas and hope that after reading them it gives our members and supporters hope for the future.

Jon-Paul Teasdale – Vice-Chair and United Kingdom Representative

References: www.britishirishcouncil.org; www.wikipedia.com

Possible terms: Realm Union; Realm Council; United Realms; Council of the Realms

A Common Future

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Article from United Commonwealth Society member, and Editor-in-Chief of The Odd Historian, Abdur Rafay looking at the advantages of closer working between the nations of the Commonwealth.

With the signing of the London Declaration of 1949, the modern Commonwealth of Nations came into being. Comprised then of eight original members, it today represents 52 diverse nations united together in language, in the shared values of democracy and the rule of law. Barring the United Nations, never before has history seen such a voluntary association of this many sovereign states, accounting for 1/6 of the World’s GDP, a quarter of its landmass and nearly a third of its entire population. Ever since its inception, there have been strengthening movements calling for greater integration between the Commonwealth nations. Today in the era of globalization, the demands hold more feasibility than ever before.

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Commonwealth flag (Copyright 2014 L. T. J. Seaford)

As globalization dissembles the states from within and outside, chipping away at its autonomy and sovereignty, for non-hegemonic states the formation of a political-economic union is crucial to retaining some form of control over the forces of the free market. This is why, in the last twenty years, we have seen the emergence of many such organizations (AU, USAN, and CIS) and greater integration within existing ones (ASEAN, EU).

However, the Commonwealth is most suited to benefit from the changing environment. Its unique structure enabling an unprecedented level of cross-regional connectivity at a grass root level. Unlike the EU and other economic blocs with an emphasis on centralism and intergovernmental cooperation, the Commonwealth is a much more organic network with a bottom up approach, allowing various interactions to take place at non-governmental levels. This novel structure allows for greater integration and flexibility without the need of undermining the sovereignty of its member states.

Another inherent advantage for the Commonwealth lies in the strong similarities in the member states. Shared cultural links, legal procedures and a common working language means that the flow of information, goods and services is both more economical and faster between members relative to non-member countries.

For Britain – post Brexit –the opportunity is ripe to increase its focus towards the Commonwealth regardless of what type of settlement is struck with the EU Single Market. Before joining the European Economic Community, Britain’s trade with the Commonwealth was four times more than that with the mainland, accounting nearly half of its exports. Today it’s less than one-fifth. With the African and Asian markets growing rapidly and opening to new investments, re-orienting towards the Commonwealth will be vital to the continual prosperity of the United Kingdom. Similar can be said for other major Commonwealth economies.

Within the Commonwealth lies great potential for the benefit of all members. Old ties and legacies can only go so far. We must look beyond just trade deals and make effort to support polices that strengthen the bond between each member states, eventually paving the way for the creation of a formal union.

Many obstacles exist to the formation of such a Union, chief among them the issue of human rights, border issues and disparity in incomes. However, Europe was facing the same problems when the EEC was forming. Obstacles are addressed through co-operation between states. A set of common goals have to be realized and a framework made for them to be implemented. A will has to be present towards greater integration of the Commonwealth with aims towards freer movement and a single market. The process can be gradual, starting with the Commonwealth realms, eventually incorporating other member states as they qualify in meeting the desired requirements.

With the uncertainty surrounding the EU and the United States in political decline, the role of an integrated Commonwealth would be crucial safeguarding the principles of democracy and free trade. It is time to make efforts to pave the way towards a common future.

Member Abdur Rafay

Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief The Odd Historian

Britain’s Last Rescue

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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.

BrexitThe 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.

Jon-Paul Teasdale
Vice Chair, UK Council Representative
22 June 2016

United Commonwealth Passports

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UCS member Russell Moore kindly submitted these eyecatching proposals for what passport covers for a Commonwealth realm union could look like. We greatly appreciate the hard work he put into them!

United Commonwealth Realms passport - Barbados United Commonwealth Realms Passport - Jamaica United Commonwealth Realms - PNG

Imperial Federation: After 130 Years (Part 3: Internal Developments)

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This is the third part of a multi-part series studying the development of the Imperial Federation League, inspiration for the United Commonwealth Society. The continuing thanks of the UCS Council and membership goes to Council Secretary Edward Harris for his tireless work creating this document.

In the last instalment, we looked at how external circumstances – especially perceived threats to security and peace of mind in the Dominions – had a significant effect on the attitude of people and especially politicians towards their place within the world system, which at this time was still largely a British system. Indeed, for some people, these external factors by themselves were reason enough for imperial consolidation. The Australian R. Langton, for example, wrote floridly in the 1900s about Dominion contributions to the Boer War:

“Thus the noble spirit of patriotism bound together the British Colonies with their motherland, just as twenty-four centuries ago the ancient Greek colonies, a mere handful of people, stirred by the same spirit, banded themselves to withstand the mighty army of Xerxes…a stupendous struggle which saved for Europe her arts, her civilisation, her liberty.”

Australian Commonwealth Horse

“Troops of No 1 Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, in the Transvaal.” (Australian War Museum

Even if statements such as these served only to mask a more cynical agenda for securing some British quid pro quo for co-operation, this only shows that the Canadians and Australians of 100 years ago were much less squeamish about deploying their traditional international connections in support of their national objectives. Part of the explanation for this was the sheer diversity of social, political and economic motives behind the Dominions’ enthusiasm for Empire in the later nineteenth century.

An important part of the explanation for this is that internal as well as external dynamics encouraged many colonial Britons towards an imperial rather than national set of aspirations. While this involves some reflection on each Dominion’s particular situations, it is important to our understanding of the Federalist movement. Read more