British High Commissioner's speech marking Commonwealth Day

British High Commissioner to Ghana Jon Benjamin delivered a speech at the Commonwealth reception to mark Commonwealth Day.

Commonwealth Day

Honourable Ministers, Fellow Heads of Mission and diplomatic colleagues, dear guests, including several Ghanaian Commonwealth Scholars, some of the over 1,500 such Ghanaian alumni.

We meet today on Commonwealth Day to recognise that The Commonwealth is a unique organisation in the world order.

In the UK, we are proud of our global relationships which have prospered within it. We believe the Commonwealth can be a force for good around the world by promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, development and prosperity. Its strength lies in the shared history, deep and diverse links between our peoples and – at our best – strong common instincts about the importance of open societies and open economies. We value the flexibility of the organisation to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. By coming together as Commonwealth Missions, and as representatives and supporters of Commonwealth organisations, we can draw on these close ties and shared values to discuss relevant issues here in Ghana and more widely.

Our Commonwealth is a great global family with immense potential, deep networks and many friendships spanning the globe. Above all, let us remember that the word Commonwealth, really means the “common good” and that is what our organisation is for.

So, the UK strongly values the Commonwealth and is committed to working with Commonwealth partners to strengthen its core values of democracy, peace and prosperity for all people, just as we did in working with the Commonwealth Observer Mission to Ghana’s 2016 elections, led by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki.
At a time of unprecedented global challenges, an organisation like the Commonwealth, based on shared values, has a particularly important role to play. Just look at how the Commonwealth helped influence the outcome of COP 21, by coming together to protect the global environment. Plus, there are many aspects we can take advantage of through being members of the Commonwealth: similar legal codes based on the Common Law and similar parliamentary systems and democratic institutions, plus a shared language, sport and so much more.

Plus of course the immense potential for increased trade, something which Commonwealth Trade Ministers, including the Hon. Alan Kyerematen discussed in London just last week. It is our intention to make the UK a leader in global free trade, working with our friends and allies in the Commonwealth to remove barriers and for greater liberalisation, including as a means to eradicate poverty, spread technology and raise living standards.

In that regard, it’s salutary to remind ourselves of a few key facts about the Commonwealth:

  1. It has 52 members which span six continents and make up a quarter of the world’s land mass. We hope by next year that the membership will expand again to 54 members with Gambia rejoining and our neighbours here, Togo, perhaps becoming the newest member.

  2. the Commonwealth comprises nearly 2.5 billion people, fully one third of the world’s population, with 1 billion of those under the age of 25.

  3. the combined Gross National Income of Commonwealth countries is nearly US$ 11 trillion, with intra-Commonwealth trade estimated at over US$ 680 billion and projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020, with several of the world’s fastest growing economies, including we trust Ghana, showing the way.

  4. For our part, the UK is the largest financial contributor to Commonwealth institutions and programmes, to the tune of over £55 million last year, including to establish a Commonwealth unit to support member states in countering violent extremism and radicalism, including the work of the Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors network. Meanwhile, we continue to have a DFID bilateral spend of over £2 billion in 38 Commonwealth countries.

We want to build on the successful Commonwealth Summit in Malta in 2015. With the Secretary General leading reform of the Commonwealth Secretariat, we have an opportunity to reenergise the Commonwealth, so that it can better uphold its shared democratic values and deliver greater security and prosperity to its citizens. In Malta, leaders agreed to strengthen the Commonwealth’s contribution to global efforts to tackle our shared challenges like countering extremism and radicalisation, combating corruption, and building the resilience of small states to issues like climate change. We can work on these together. But we shouldn’t just look at what we can achieve through the Commonwealth as an organisation, but also through us coming together as a grouping of countries.

As hosts, we are aiming for an ambitious and dynamic next Commonwealth Summit in 2018. We are working closely with Baroness Patricia Scotland and her team, the Commonwealth Secretariat, other Commonwealth organisations, member states and other interested parties to develop the agenda for the meeting. We want to take an ambitious, creative and innovative approach that makes the most of all the Commonwealth has to offer and demonstrates a Commonwealth that is truly relevant for the 21st century.

And we want to build on the Commonwealth Secretary General’s description of our unique organisation as a “peacebuilding Commonwealth”, tackling violence at the state level, including violent extremism, domestic violence and other forms of bullying and intimidation.

Finally, L&G, at the beginning of a week of Commonwealth activities in London - and on the day a Commonwealth Baton sets out from Buckingham Palace to visit all the nations and territories of the Commonwealth before being opened and read at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year – let me quote Her Majesty The Queen who in her Commonwealth Day message earlier today reminded us that the cornerstones of the Commonwealth are, and I quote:

quite simply, respect and understanding for one another …. by upholding justice and the rule of law, and by striving for societies that are fair and offer opportunities for all, we overcome division and find reconciliation, so that the benefits of progress and prosperity may be multiplied and shared …. We can find further reward and fulfilment by continuing to collaborate with others in a spirit of goodwill to build a peaceful and abundant future for all Commonwealth citizens.

With that, thank you for your attention and enjoy the evening.

Published 13 March 2017