Every year on the second Monday of March, I celebrate Britain’s membership of a rather exclusive political club. One where all member states share not only a common history forged by war and peace in the 19th and 20th centuries but also common values and practices that set us apart from the rest of the world.
This club, you could say, is the only one with the potential to rival the American and Chinese superpowers in the world of trade. Without this club, Britain would most certainly be alone and isolated, struggling to find its place in world affairs.
No, I am not talking about the lumbering dinosaur that is the European Union where stagnant economic growth since the 1970’s has seen the continent at risk of falling behind the likes of Brazil and the Tiger Economies of South and Far East Asia. I am, in fact, talking about the Commonwealth of Nations.
With a membership of 54 independent states (Rwanda joined in 2009) and their dependent territories, spanning every continent and an estimated population of 2.5 billion, there is no other international organisation besides the UN that can rival the Commonwealth for global reach while the economic growth of its members put much of Europe and the developed world to shame.
You only really have to look at one member in particular to see why advancing our relationship with the Commonwealth over Europe makes sense. India, the 7th largest nation in the world with a population of over 1.2 billion people, as of 2009, enjoyed just a 2% share of global GDP by market exchange rates yet with economic growth hitting almost 7% annually this will have risen to 13% by 2050, second only to China and USA.
Other commonwealth members who will spend this century racing past Europe include Malaysia with sustained rates of growth as high as 8% since the 1960’s and Nigeria, currently enjoying the status of not only Africa’s most populous state but also its largest oil producer.
Even the old dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, our own kith and kin who we share not only a common language but the same respect for the rule of law, individual liberty and free trade have all enjoyed a much healthier recovery from the world financial downturn than EU member states, attributed in part to their smaller exposure to the European debt crisis and their keenness to seek out new trading partners in Asia.
Contrast this to sluggish performance of our European neighbours. We have Greece, Spain and Italy saddled with endless debt and deficit beyond anything Gordon Brown could have inflicted on the UK during his premiership.
Southern Europe has been crippled not only by their membership of the wholly incompatible Eurozone but by years of belief that Europe, if they club together and ‘pool sovereignty’ they can challenge emerging markets. Tragically, what they have instead is a situation where over 26% of working age adults in Spain are out of work while youth unemployment remains above 50%. In Greece, poverty has become so severe that desperate Athenians, too tired to join the countless demonstrations against austerity, have ended their lives on the steps of government buildings.
The plain truth is that our membership of the European Union has simply become incompatible if we are to enjoy the full benefits of a more proactive
involvement in the Commonwealth of the 21st century.
Immigration is a clear example where EU membership highlights this incompatibility. The coalition government last week boasted about how immigration had fallen by a third, yet with a net flow of 163,000 to June 2012, the promise of bringing these figures down to the ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015 looks destined to failure.
The stark reality is that whilst we are an EU member state, no government can have an immigration policy fit for purpose. Our doors will swing wide open to Romania and Bulgaria next January leading to the almost certain prospect of yet more unskilled jobs being filled by non-UK workers while the brightest minds from Canada, India, Malaysia and the like must jump through the hoops to prove their worth.
This sort of madness where we favour unskilled migrants with no English skills over the scientists and surgeons of the big wide world again shows why Europe will continue to lag behind our Commonwealth cousins.
So today I will, of course, be celebrating Commonwealth Day, which for 2013 has the theme of Opportunity Through Enterprise. Sadly, until we free ourselves from the bureaucratic shackles imposed on us by Brussels, any attempt at boosting much needed enterprise in the UK will be stifled out of existence.