Brexit-bound Britain will seek to upscale its links with the Commonwealth by hosting the next summit in April 2018 in London, when leaders of 52 countries – including India – will participate in events at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and elsewhere.
Britain hopes to compensate for the loss of access to the European Single Market to some extent after leaving the EU by revitalising its historic connections with the Commonwealth, many of whose countries were part of the British empire.
Official sources said on Monday – March 13 is celebrated as the Commonwealth Day – that it will be the first time that Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle will be among venues for a Commonwealth Summit.
A high-level ministerial group with a former diplomat as its CEO has been formed for the summit, when Britain will take over as the next chair of the group. The unit has been set up in the backdrop of reports that the current Commonwealth Secretariat need to be “shored up”.
Prime Minister Theresa May was due to meet Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the current Commonwealth Chair, to discuss preparations for next year’s summit. She will also join the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey attended by Queen Elizabeth.
May said: “As we prepare to host the Commonwealth Summit in London next April, we are reminded today of the unique and proud global relationships that we have forged with the diverse and vibrant alliance of Commonwealth nations”.
“And in hosting the Commonwealth Summit next year, the UK is committed to working with all members not only to reaffirm these shared values, but also to re-energise and revitalise the Commonwealth to cement its relevance to this and future generations”.
Officials said May and her cabinet will oversee preparations for the summit through a new Inter-Ministerial Group co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd. May has appointed Tim Hitchens, former envoy and assistant private secretary to the Queen, as the unit’s CEO.
The Commonwealth is made up of 52 members spanning six continents with a combined population of around 2.4 billion people, almost half of whom are under 25. The group includes established economies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as well as emerging markets like India, Malaysia, and South Africa, with trade between Commonwealth countries projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2020.
A meeting of Commonwealth trade ministers here last week discussed ways to enhance trade within the group as well as globally. Appointing a trade ambassador and India leading the group’s focus on SMEs were some of the key decisions at the meeting.