At the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Western Australia, the prime ministers of all sixteen Commonwealth Realms held a sub-meeting to discuss reform of the royal succession laws. The United Commonwealth Society believes that this amicable and successful moment should form a template for further regular meetings between our leaders, including representatives from the various territories and dependencies.
These meetings should be reinforced institutionally: a permanent body of realm representatives, loosely modelled on the Nordic Council, should be established to promote the harmonisation of trade, foreign and defence policy, and speak with a united voice on the world stage.
We hope that this might lay the groundwork for a political federation with its own government, Prime Minister and bicameral legislature, directly elected by all citizens. Owing to the vast scale and dispersal of the realms, such a government’s powers would necessarily be limited to areas of common importance, such as trade policy, international affairs, and defence, and be tightly circumscribed by a constitution.
Why Unite the Commonwealth Realms?
The UCS believes that Her Majesty’s remaining realms and territories are united by a common heritage: similar legal systems, political structures, social programmes, and economies; history, language, liberal and democratic values and multicultural demography. We generally feel the same way about moral and international issues, and have broadly compatible national interests. The Crown is a symbol of this, but that does not mean some republics would not also meet the criteria, or that all realms would necessarily want to join a union. For the willing, however, union will allow the realms and their closest allies to preserve their individual and common cultures as a dynamic and independent world force for generations to come.
The Commonwealth of Nations
The existing Commonwealth would continue to exist alongside a Realm Union. One of the leading duties of the council would be the strengthening of economic and diplomatic ties between the realms and non-realms of the Commonwealth. Key to this would be the establishment of a pan-Commonwealth trade agreement, effectively reviving the practice of Commonwealth Preference abandoned in the second half of the 20th century. Membership of the Realm Council could potentially be made available to other select Commonwealth countries or the Republic of Ireland.
The European Union
The United Kingdom is currently unable to negotiate its own bilateral trade agreements independent of the European Union. In order for the UK to be part of any proposed Commonwealth trade agreement or political union, it would be necessary for the UK to leave the EU, or at least dramatically renegotiate the terms of its membership. The United Kingdom, and subsequent Realm Union, would ideally seek an associate EU membership, based on trade, or a bilateral free trade agreement.
International Trade Agreements
Just as the European Union is the UK’s dominant trading partner, the United States and Asia are the dominant trading partners for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand respectively. Free trade among the realms, and even a Commonwealth-wide Trade Agreement, would not alter this situation, but a single Realm Trade Area would allow us to negotiate better terms for ourselves as a bloc. A Realm Union would be eligible for membership of NAFTA, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community, and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, among other economic agreements.
One way in which the realms already work closely together is defence. However, there is still much scope for closer integration. In particular, a common NATO-style defence strategy (and also NATO membership) across the entire union could prove invaluable, especially in the Pacific and polar regions. Properly integrated defence procurement could create jobs across the union, ensure greater independence of supply and facilitate the development of home-grown technology. Operational interoperability, particularly in the field of meaningful international force projection, would increase our collective influence, but also improve our ability to make independent decisions on peacekeeping or pre-emptive strikes. Our forces should work and train together, have access to the same kit, and be deployable internationally under joint command.
Citizenship and Immigration
One of the first acts of a Realm Council should be to establish a common citizenship (“Realm Citizen”) to run alongside existing national citizenships. This would be a similar concept to EU or Commonwealth Citizenship. All citizens of realms whose countries were full members of the Union would automatically receive Realm Citizenship, and the Realm Council would approve all laws relating to that status, which would then have to be fully recognised and enforced across all Union territories.
All Realm Citizens would be granted full rights of movement, residence and employment across the Union. Passport controls could remain in place where judged appropriate.
External immigration quotas would be set at Union level, based on locally agreed requirements. If it proved necessary, new immigrants could experience temporary moratoria on their freedom of movement to prevent abuse of the immigration system. To keep population levels sustainable, smaller territories would have the right to control their absolute immigration levels, even from within the Union. This, however, would be negotiated at Union level.
If desired in the long term, the possibility would exist for an eventual Union government to abolish national citizenships. Even if and when national citizenships were abolished though, individual realms or groups of realms would almost certainly continue to issue their own Realm Passports, as they did with British Passports before 1949.
Not all realms currently enjoy the same level of social and economic development. Although, overall, the population of the developing realms is relatively small, in some cases there might be concern that the prospect of better-paid work overseas would lead to an exodus of talent from the poorest countries, and increased demand on public services in the more developed.
In these cases, the UCS would propose a gradual phasing-in of full Realm Citizenship rights over time, and an undertaking on the part of developing and developed realms to work together to hasten the closing of the prosperity gap. This should focus on high standards in education, business and political culture, and take the form of advice and assistance at government and trade-body level, as well as long-term grants, development loans and equity investment, overseen by Union institutions.
To facilitate business and a sense of shared purpose, the easy flow of information, people and goods between realms would be of paramount importance. Along with free trade and freedom of movement, we would strongly recommend the maintenance of robust and independent information networks between the major realms. A Realm Broadcasting Union could work to improve cultural links by ensuring some television programming was created and broadcast Union-wide. We also propose the creation of state-subsidised hypersonic airliner routes between realms, using existing technology. This would dramatically cut journey times, and make our citizens feel connected as never before.
Territories, Dependencies and Indigenous Peoples
The UCS recognises the right of the citizens of territories and dependencies to self-determination. Should the people of any given territory wish to become independent or to join another nation, the UCS would generally support this position. However, we similarly recognise and support the right of territories and dependencies to retain their status, a desire demonstrated overwhelmingly in referenda by the residents of Gibraltar (in 1967 and 2002), and the Falkland Islands (in 2013).
We would like to see indigenous peoples, and the populations of our territories and dependencies, fully integrated and involved in the democratic process at Union level, while respecting their unique needs as small and disparate nations.
A peaceful world, where Realm values of liberal democracy and the rule of law are widely available, would clearly be in the best interests of a global trading union. The United Realms would lack either the motivation or ability to be a belligerent acquisitive power, but we would have the economic, diplomatic and military influence to be a force for good, and to act independently on the world stage, in conjunction with, but not subservient to, our close allies in the United States and Europe.
Internal Balance of Power
One strength of our proposals would be the unique geographical and political dynamics of a Realm Union. It would contain a triumvirate of ‘large’ realms (Canada, Australia and the UK), spread across the world’s major regions. It would possess a similar number of ‘medium-sized’ realms (New Zealand, Jamaica and Papua New Guinea), and numerous smaller realms and territories spanning most corners of the globe. As a totality, this would confer considerable strategic influence and access to trade and natural resources far into the future. But how would such a diverse collection of territories and geographic regions work together, without a return to colonialism?
Any political structure would be likely to evolve through time, but initially, any Council would most likely operate one realm one vote, perhaps even one territory one vote. Inevitably, in practice, the larger realms would wield more authority, but they would not be able to trample over the wishes of the smaller. As institutions developed, we would envisage this process being enshrined in a constitution, which would confer significant voting power to the smaller realms and territories, greater power to the medium-sized, but with the balance of power in most votes being held between the triumvirate of major powers.
Voting would be so designed that two major realms could carry most votes with support from smaller and medium-sized realms. This would prevent the union being either dominated or paralysed by one or two countries. Decisions would be made, but they would have to be made with a high degree of consensus. National opt-outs would be available in certain policy areas (e.g. pre-emptive military action).
Should the Union ever reach a level of integration that meant talk of ‘national’ influence became less relevant, the same principles would still hold true, but on a geographical basis. That is, North America and the Caribbean; Europe and the Atlantic; and Asia Pacific, would all be roughly equal in influence.
The UCS is officially neutral on the matter of the monarchy. Many of our short- and long-term goals could also be achieved with elected heads of state. Nevertheless, we recognise and respect the role played by the monarchy in representing our shared heritage and culture throughout the Commonwealth Realms. The existence of a common head of state represents a key foundation on which to build a new association.
Many cities have been proposed as a potential capital for a Realm Union. Notable among them is London, the largest of the realm capital cities, historic capital of the English-speaking world, the only world city to compete with New York in terms of global influence and prestige, and home of the Commonwealth Secretariat. However, London would be a politically sensitive choice, and other major realm cities, or a purpose-built capital, are popular alternatives. At least initially, the use of multiple or rotating capitals is likely, as with the governments of South Africa and the European Union respectively. The final decision would ultimately rest with the founders and citizens of the Union.
The UCS recognises the democratic right of Commonwealth citizens to self-determination, and would welcome an independent Scotland or Quebec into the Commonwealth should their citizens wish to separate. However, it is our preference that both Scotland and Quebec retain their current status within their respective nations.
Left vs. Right
The UCS has always been a cross party organisation. It is our position that members of the Australian Labor Party have much in common with their British counterparts, while members of the New Zealand National Party have much in common with their Canadian Conservative counterparts. We would envisage the balance of power at Union level shifting between centre left and right much as it does within our nations at present. What is important is that we do this together, in order to protect our collective voice and values in a changing world.
The Long Term
A potential final step on the road to union could be the proclamation of a single federal state. All Canadian Provinces, Australian States, UK Home Nations, mid-sized realms, and groups of smaller realms, would then become provinces within the Union. Each province would retain its own legislature (including a new parliament for England), and enjoy a high degree of local autonomy. A new federal capital territory would be created. The national governments of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia might become obsolete, being replaced by regional councils dedicated to co-ordinating contiguous provinces on regional and cross-border issues. Their other powers could be redistributed to their provinces and the Union government, thus creating a more efficient union of more ‘equal’ units, centred on local parliaments. However, the UCS is quite content to see the first stage proposals (a Union Council) come about, and any further developments should be subject to referenda in all countries concerned. A full-blown ‘national’ union would likely only be a possibility for the distant future.