With Brexit on the horizon, Britain’s relationship with the Commonwealth takes on renewed importance.
Ahead of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), scheduled to take place in London in April, old debates have come alive over the relevance and importance of the Commonwealth of Nations and its involvement in world affairs. As alternative to the European Union post Brexit, the United Kingdom sees the Commonwealth as a global trading and international affairs network. In the absence of China, the organization provides a platform to demonstrate the credibility of aspiring global leaders like India.
A visit by Prince Charles in November 2017 to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the summit to discuss India’s role in the organization shows the importance Britain bestows upon India’s strategic ambit. Subsequent visits from Tim Hitchens, chief executive of the Commonwealth Summit Unit, and Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth secretary general, further reinforced this position.
Trade statistics from 2016 show that the UK imports from the Indian subcontinent, which encompasses India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, totalled £15.2 ($21) billion, and exports £7.7 ($10) billion. Within the rest of the Commonwealth there is a marked propensity for an Indo-centric focus in trade. For instance, trade between India and South Africa now stands at around $20 billion, and between India and Nigeria at around $10 billion. Adding up trading configurations between other African and South Asian countries would definitely prove what is more obviously felt than said — that the trading heart of the old empire is still evolving.
In 2016, during the House of Commons debate, former Defense Minister Lord Archie Hamilton asserted that the limitations in the EU competence clause is the biggest obstacle in the UK-India trade, and that after Brexit its removal will boost bilateral trade between the two countries. India is seen as a preferred partner by the UK for obvious reasons. According to the joint statement released after the India-UK Summit in New Delhi in November 2016, India was the third largest investor in the UK and the second largest international job creator: Indian companies having created over 110,000 jobs in Britain. Furthermore, India is also considered a key target market, with recent forecasts by the London Chamber of Commerce suggesting that a deal could boost UK exports to the country by 50%. Furthermore, if one considers trade statistics, Brexit doesn’t appear to have much of an effect on India-UK trade.