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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.

cw-flag-bw-cropped-c-ltj-seaford

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