This week, 6,500 world-class athletes from 71 nations gathered in Glasgow for the start of the 20th Commonwealth Games. Over the next week and a half, hundreds of millions of spectators will watch these athletes display their skill, strength and endurance in seventeen different disciplines.
As I watched the opening ceremony, I was proud of the attention the Games are drawing to Glasgow, the third largest city in the United Kingdom and the biggest in Scotland. It was also a chance to reflect on the bonds which hold us together – in the United Kingdom of course, but also within the Commonwealth. What is it that unites us? And how can we make these links even stronger?
The Commonwealth is an astonishing group of nations. It is home to a third of the world’s population, over half of whom are under the age of 30. It is diverse. It includes some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries, and stretches across every continent. Some 31 of its members are small states, many of them island nations. Its terrain includes high mountains, Arctic islands, shifting sand dunes, coral reefs, tropical rainforest and green rolling hills.
As a voluntary association, it is a constant reminder that what brings nations together in the 21st century is common interests and common consent.
The fact that we choose to work together in this way, and that others seek to join us, is because the Commonwealth has been a force for good for over 60 years: it helps us to learn from each other, enables development, promotes democracy and the rule of law, and helps to create jobs and growth. We have shared values, and we use those values to create peace and prosperity. This spirit of co-operation is what makes the Commonwealth tick.
But we cannot be complacent. Our organisation needs to remain relevant. The rapid technological boom of the past few decades has brought with it many opportunities, and made the world we live in much more interconnected. It’s important in these circumstances that we spread these benefits between all of our members. Working to increase prosperity is a vital function of the Commonwealth. Where we can help one another to develop the skills to thrive in a modern commercial environment or make more effective use of new means of communication, we must.
The United Kingdom is a passionate supporter of free trade. We will do our utmost to expand trade and investment across the Commonwealth – for instance, by using our leverage in other bodies, including the EU and the World Trade Organisation, to open up more markets to Commonwealth countries who, together, account for a fifth of the world’s economy.
But we will also push to make the Commonwealth relevant in other areas, promoting the values and aspirations that unite us, which are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter signed last year by Her Majesty The Queen. These values – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – are fundamental to what the Commonwealth stands for. And the UK will continue making the case for these values to be upheld. In particular, we will continue to press Commonwealth countries to recognise that the LGBT community deserves the same protection as all others.
Next year, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta gives us an opportunity to work out a plan of action for how to put these values into practice. Importantly, this summit comes at a time when we start working towards a new set of international development goals. I believe that the Commonwealth can make a significant contribution here: development is a first order priority.
This is hard, serious work, and rightly so. But it is necessary to keep the Commonwealth in good shape for the years ahead.
This week, I hope to see at least a few of the events. I wish the organisers and the teams every success. To me, these Games epitomise the great strengths of the Commonwealth - how with energy and enthusiasm, we can work together with a common purpose and achieve world-class results.
And I will return from Glasgow to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office determined to step up our work, alongside other Commonwealth nations, to increase the security and well-being of the 2.2 billion people that we collectively represent.