Could the Commonwealth become more important to the UK than the EU?

Ruth Lea and Thomas Raines debate the importance of the Commonwealth to the UK

Ruth Lea, economic adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, says Yes.

Crystal ball gazing is a risky business. But it’s a useful exercise that can throw up some fascinating, albeit highly provisional, conclusions.

The Commonwealth is already a colossus, comprising 53 countries and over 2bn people. In its diversity, the Commonwealth represents the modern world – from mature G7 countries to fast-growing, developing economies. It already accounts for over 15 per cent of world GDP and, blessed by favourable demographics, its markets are growing buoyantly.

In contrast, the EU 28’s growth prospects are sluggish, reflecting the truly appalling demographics in Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland.

Even on quite conservative growth assumptions, the Commonwealth should overtake the EU in terms of share of world GDP by 2025, and its lead can only widen as the century proceeds.

The UK, by neglecting the Commonwealth and concentrating on the EU, has so far backed the wrong horse.

But the future could, should, be very different.

Thomas Raines, research associate at Chatham House, says No.

The EU and the Commonwealth are different organisations serving different purposes.

The EU has created the world’s largest market, reduced trade barriers, raised environmental and labour standards, and made it easy to live, travel and work across the continent.

It’s successfully integrated the countries of the former Eastern bloc into its club of liberal democracies.

Despite an avowed commitment to human rights, the Commonwealth comprises a mix of democrats and autocrats. Homosexuality is illegal in 41 of its 53 member states.

The shambolic 2013 Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka was boycotted by some of its own member heads of governments.

Even as a development organisation, the performance of the Commonwealth Secretariat is considered to be poor. The UK government judged its own contribution to be bad value for money.

The EU is not perfect. But historical nostalgia is not a substitute for real political and economic achievements.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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