I’ve long thought that the whole idea of the “Commonwealth of Nations” is a concept which is outdated now, and was probably outdated at the time that it was conceived. It has always seemed like an attempt to somehow cling on to the imperial past, pretending from the UK perspective that those countries conquered, ruled, and exploited by one European power in particular must, as a result of that process, look up in awe to the ‘motherland’, whilst hoping, from the other perspective, for some sort of favourable treatment from the former colonists.
But ‘breaking ties with the commonwealth’ was one of the issues in the 1975 referendum on membership of the EEC, so it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that renewing and strengthening those ties would be an issue arising in the wake of the 2016 referendum, particularly for those with a yearning to dwell in the past. It is in that context that 45 Tory MPs wrote to the Home Secretary just under a fortnight ago, advocating changes to visa rules for Commonwealth citizens. The issue, it seems, is to be debated in parliament shortly. (The report suggests 26th, but as far as I’m aware, parliament doesn’t hold debates on Sundays.)
As someone who supports the idea of free movement of people in principle, I welcome any moves to ease restrictions (although it would be better if the government would also give at least a passing thought to preparing for the consequences). But restricting freedom of movement from Europe whilst loosening controls on those further afield seems bizarre to me. Perhaps it doesn’t look the same to those who view the imperial past through rose-tinted spectacles.I don’t know how broadly popular the idea of giving priority to the commonwealth will be; I’m afraid that I rather suspect that it depends on what image the word conjures up. For me, it is of a widely dispersed territory most of the population of which lives in Africa or the sub-continent of India. I wonder, though, whether for many the image is more one of ‘kith-and-kin’ in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ll admit find it hard to believe that many of those who voted in the referendum thinking that they were going to put a stop to movement of people from the rest of the EU would really be delighted to see them replaced by more people from India or Pakistan. Not for the first time, it suggests that immigration was merely an issue seized upon to achieve a result rather than a real concern for those leading the campaign.