HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS
CREATION OF THE UNITED KINGDOM (1603 & 1707) The British Empire
The Queen is Head of State in the United Kingdom. Her official title in the UK is "Elizabeth the Second,
by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other
Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith".
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen does not 'rule' the country, but fulfils important ceremonial and
formal roles with respect to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and the devolved assemblies of
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Queen is also Fount of Justice, from whom justice in the United Kingdom derives, and has important
relationships with the Armed Forces and the established Churches of England and Scotland.
In addition to her role in the United Kingdom, The Queen has a special role to play in the Channel Islands
and the Isle of Man, which are dependent territories of the English Crown.
THE ROYAL STANDARD
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
In the course of more than 50 years on the throne, The Queen has developed a very personal
relationship with Australia through regular visits.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign.
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen, by convention, is not involved in the day-to-day business of the
Australian Government, but she continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles.
The Queen's relationship to Australia is unique. In all her duties, she speaks and acts as Queen of
Australia, and not as Queen of the United Kingdom. The Queen's Royal style and title in Australia is
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories,
Head of the Commonwealth.
In the course of more than 50 years on the throne, The Queen has developed a very personal relationship
with Australia through regular visits. She has travelled throughout the different states to meet people from
all cultures, walks of life and regions of this enormous and fascinating country.
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA
QUEEN OF AUSTRALIA
Together with The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen has travelled through every part of Canada to
meet people from all cultures, walks of life and regions.
Canada is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign.
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen abides by the decisions of the Canadian Government, but she
continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles.
In all these duties, The Queen acts as Queen of Canada, quite distinctive from her role in the United
Kingdom or any of her other realms.
Over the course of more than 50 years The Queen has been a regular visitor to Canada, paying over 20
visits. Together with The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen has travelled through every part of the different
provinces to meet people from all cultures, walks of life and regions.
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF CANADA
QUEEN OF CANADA
Over the course of her reign The Queen has been a regular visitor to New Zealand, paying 10 visits.
New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign.
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen abides by the decisions of the New Zealand Government, but she
continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles.
In all her duties, The Queen acts as Queen of New Zealand, quite distinctive from her role in the United
Kingdom or any of her other realms.
Over the course of her reign, The Queen has been a regular visitor to New Zealand, paying 10 visits.
Together with The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen has travelled through every part of the different
provinces to meet people from every culture, walk of life and region.
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF NEW ZEALAND
QUEEN OF NEW ZEALAND
Over the course of her reign, The Queen has visited Jamaica six times to date, touring the island
Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy with The Queen as Sovereign.
As a constitutional monarch, The Queen abides by the decisions of the Jamaican Government, but she
continues to play important ceremonial and symbolic roles.
In all her duties, The Queen acts as Queen of Jamaica, quite distinctive from her role in the United
Kingdom or any of her other realms.
Over the course of her reign, The Queen has visited Jamaica six times to date, touring the island
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF JAMAICA
QUEEN OF JAMAICA
OTHER CARIBBEAN REALMS
The Queen is Sovereign of a number of nations in the Caribbean - Antigua and Barbuda, the
Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the
QUEEN OF BARBADOS
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
ST. KITTS & NEVIS
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
ST.VINCENT & THE GRENADINES
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
The Queen inspects a guard of honour on the quayside at Nassau in the Bahamas
© Press Association
In addition to Jamaica, The Queen is Sovereign of a number of nations in the Caribbean.
These are: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, St Christopher and Nevis, St
Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. All are parliamentary democracies and constitutional
In January 1958 the British Caribbean island colonies of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and the
Leeward and Windward Islands were brought together to form the West Indies Federation, with its capital
However, in 1962, the Federation was dissolved by mutual consent after the withdrawal of Jamaica,
Trinidad and Tobago to seek independence. Other islands followed suit, but most retained The Queen as
The Queen is represented in all these nations by Governors-General, who carry out the duties of Head of
She has also been a regular visitor to the Caribbean during her reign, carrying out many of the tours on
the Royal Yacht Britannia while it was in service.
Antigua and Barbuda were granted independence in 1981 and secured Commonwealth membership. The
Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh included the island in their Caribbean tour of 1966, and in the Silver
Jubilee tour of October 1977. The Queen visited again in 1985.
Consisting of 700 islands and over 1000 cays off the coast of Florida, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas
an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1973.
Independence Day celebrations on the islands were attended by The Prince of Wales, acting as The
Queen's special representative.
The Queen and members of the Royal Family have toured the Bahamas on several occasions.
The islands were visited by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in the course of their Caribbean tours
of February 1966 and February 1975, and during the Silver Jubilee tour of October 1977.
There was a further visit to Nassau for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October
Barbados became an independent sovereign State within the Commonwealth on 30 November 1966. The
Queen has visited on various occasions.
At the end of the Silver Jubilee tour of 1977, Concorde made its first landing in Barbados, and The Queen
experienced her first supersonic flight.
In 1989, The Queen marked the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Barbados Parliament.
Belize is a Central American country which has been an independent member of the Commonwealth
since 1981. Visits have been made by The Duke of Edinburgh during his Caribbean tour of March 1975,
and by The Queen in October 1985.
Grenada, the most southerly of the Caribbean Windward Islands, achieved independent nationhood within
the Commonwealth in 1974. The island was included in The Queen's Caribbean tour of 1966. In 1985 The
Queen opened Parliament in St George's.
St Lucia, in the eastern Caribbean, achieved independence in 1979, when The Queen was represented by
Princess Alexandra at the independence celebrations.
The Queen visited for the first time during her Caribbean tour of 1966, and again in 1985. The Prince of
Wales attended the island's tenth anniversary of independence celebrations in 1989.
St Christopher and Nevis became a fully independent state and member of the Commonwealth in 1983.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited St Christopher (known as St Kitts) and Nevis in 1966
during their Caribbean tour, and again in 1985.
St Vincent and the Grenadines were the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence, following a
referendum in 1979. The Queen visited in 1966 and again in 1985.
SOUTH PACIFIC REALMS
The Queen is Sovereign of three island nations in the South Pacific - Papua New Guinea, the
Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
The Queen visiting Tuvalu in 1982 © Camera Press
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF TUVALU
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
GOVERNOR GENERAL OF
The Queen is Sovereign of three island nations in the South Pacific - Papua New Guinea, the Solomon
Islands and Tuvalu. All three nations are parliamentary democracies and constitutional monarchies.
The Queen is represented in all three nations by Governors-General, who carry out the duties of Head of
Unlike other Commonwealth realms, the Governor-General of Papua New Guinea is nominated by the
country's Parliament, rather than by its Prime Minister, as is the convention elsewhere.
Developments in transportation during her reign have allowed The Queen to make several visits to these
far-flung and beautiful places.
Papua New Guinea gained independence from Australia in 1975, but retained The Queen as Sovereign.
Independence celebrations were attended by The Prince of Wales, as The Queen's special representative.
The Duke of Edinburgh visited the country in the course of an extended Commonwealth tour which lasted
from October 1956 until February 1957.
In Papua New Guinea The Queen is known in the pidgin language of Tok Pisin as 'Missis Kwin', and as
'Mama belong big family'.
The Queen visited for the first time in February 1974, and again in 1977 during her Silver Jubilee tour,
when she toured the capital Port Moresby, Popondetta and Alotau. The Queen and Prince Philip visited
again in October 1982.
The islands which form Tuvalu were formerly known as the Ellice Islands.
Together with the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), they were proclaimed a protectorate in 1892 and
annexed to the British Crown (at the request of the local governments) as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands
Colony in 1915.
In 1975 the Ellice Islands severed constitutional links with the Gilbert Islands and took a new name,
Tuvalu, achieving independence in 1978. Tuvalu retained The Queen as Head of State.
It is now a special member of the Commonwealth, with the right to participate in all Commonwealth
activities and functions, but not to attend Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.
The Queen paid a visit to these remote and extraordinary islands in 1982.
Situated in the Pacific Ocean, east of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands became an independent state and
member of the Commonwealth in 1978, retaining The Queen as Sovereign.
In 1974 The Queen and Prince Philip, with Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, visited the Solomon
Islands during a tour of the area.
The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh made a further visit in October 1982, after they had attended the
Commonwealth Games in Australia.
BRITISH OVERSEAS TERRITORIES
Overseas territories belong to the British, Australian or New Zealand Crown and have The Queen
An overseas territory is a territory belonging by settlement, conquest or annexation to the British,
Australian or New Zealand Crown.
There are 14 British Overseas Territories, which are: British Indian Ocean Territory, Gibraltar, Bermuda,
the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, St
Helena and its dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha), Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands, the
Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, the Pitcairn Group of Islands, and the Sovereign
Base Areas on Cyprus.
Hong Kong, a former overseas territory held by Britain on a long lease, was handed back to China on 1
July 1997, in a ceremony attended by The Prince of Wales.
In British Overseas Territories, The Queen is represented by Governors, or in some cases by
Commissioners, Administrators or Residents, who are responsible to the British Government for the
government of the countries concerned.
The United Kingdom is responsible for the security of the overseas territories and for their foreign affairs
and defence-related matters. Most overseas territories have their own elected government.
Located in the Caribbean, tourism and banking are two of the major contributors to the island's economy.
The British army intervened on the island in 1969 when there was violent opposition to being
administered from St Kitts. It was formally separated in 1980.
Located in the North Atlantic, Bermuda is Britain's oldest colony, dating from 1609, and its residents are
content to remain a dependent territory, as an independence referendum in 1995 showed, where
independence was rejected by a 75 per cent margin. Its main trade is in insurance and investment, but
fishing is also important. The independence movement continues to campaign in Bermuda.
British Antarctic Territory
A whaling station existed on South Shetland Island, part of what now constitutes the BAT. But now the
population is about 70 scientists at the British Antarctic Survey Station, which was established in 1943.
The territory has a total area of 1,709,400 square kilometres. The British Antarctic Territory is the region
of Antarctica over which the United Kingdom claims sovereignty. It includes all the lands and islands in a
wedge extending from the South Pole to 60° S latitude between longitudes 20° W and 80° W. It is
administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an Overseas Dependent Territory. The British
Antarctic Territory issues its own postage stamps. Although the United Kingdom claims sovereignty over
this region, there are overlapping claims by Argentina and Chile. Under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty,
all territorial claims remain frozen, allowing the whole of Antarctica to be used as a continent for peace
and science. The Antarctic Peninsula was the first part of Antarctica to be sighted by explorers.
In 1820, Smith, Palmer and Bellingshausen all sighted the Antarctic Peninsula. Many expeditions in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries visited the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands, and the
region contains many sites of historic interest. British Antarctic Territory has a great wealth of marine
life, including large breeding colonies of penguins and seals, which attracted the first sailors to the region
in pursuit of fur and seal-oil. British Antarctic Territory includes a wide range of landscapes, from the
spectacular mountains and islands of the Antarctic Peninsula, to smooth plains of ice shelves and ice caps.
British Indian Ocean Territory
Access to these islands located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, south of India, is limited to the British
and American military and civilian contractors working there to provide support for the UK and US
British Virgin Islands
Located in the Caribbean, discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Tourism is now the most
important factor in the economy.
Located in the Caribbean, having been a dependency of Britain and then Jamaica, the Caymans reverted
to being under the British in 1962. It is the fifth largest banking centre in the world.
Located in the South Atlantic off the southern tip of South America, the Falkland Islanders were given
full British citizenship after the conflict between Britain and Argentina in 1982. Islanders have made it
clear on several occasions that they want to stay British, even though nearby Argentina claims
sovereignty over the islands and refers to them as the Malvinas .
Located on the southern tip of Spain, having been governed by at least eight different rulers, the Spanish
ceded Gibraltar to the British in 1713. The British have said they will stand by Gibraltarians' right to
defend who should rule them. As EU citizens, many are also British citizens. Spain continues to claim
sovereignty over Gibraltar. The Gibraltar Liberal Party wants independence for Gibraltar as a Dominion.
Located in the Caribbean, the population is thought to have fallen since two-thirds of the island was made
uninhabitable by a volcano in 2003. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus, but was first ruled from
Britain in 1632.
Located in the middle of the South Pacific, one of the most remote parts of what is left of the Empire, it is
best known for being a home to Fletcher Christian and nine of the mutineers from the 'Bounty'. It is now
Britain's last dependent territory in the Pacific. Islanders speak a mixture of English and Tahitian - 18
Tahitians accompanied Christian when he landed in 1790.
Located in the South Atlantic, St Helena is the only one of Britain's dependent territories which currently
receives aid. The Foreign Office estimates the aid amounts to £3.2 million, although the island's
government is trying to increase inward investment and tourism. Its dependencies include Ascension
Island, Gough Islands and Tristan da Cunha, thought to be the world's most remote inhabited island,
which has a population of 300. Ascension Island has no indigenous population but is used as a relay
station for the RAF, the USAF, Cable and Wireless and the BBC.
Located in the South Atlantic, east of the Falkland Islands, with just a military and a scientific base, these
islands were administratively part of the Falklands until 1985 when they were converted into a separate
territory. Like the Falklands they were occupied by Argentine troops in 1982. Argentina still claims them.
Turks and Caicos Islands
Located in the Caribbean, south of the Bahamas, consisting of more than 30 islands, they were a
dependency of Jamaica from 1874 until 1959, but then became a separate British dependency. A great
many of the tourists who visit the Turks and Caicos Islands are Canadian. Owing to this and the islands'
status as a British colony, some politicians, both in Canada and the Turks and Caicos, have suggested
some form of union between the two countries.
In 1973, Canadian NDP MP Max Saltsman introduced the first failed attempt at annexing the islands. The
idea was brought up again in 1986 by Canadian Conservative MP Dan McKenzie, but it was rejected by
his party's caucus committee on external affairs in 1987. The committee, chaired by MP David Daubney,
looked at immigration, banking, health care and tourism issues in making its decision. In 2004, Canadian
Conservative MP Peter Goldring visited Turks and Caicos to explore the possibility once more. He plans
to table a Private Member's bill in the Canadian House of Commons offering full Provincial status in
Canada to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Joining Canada as a full province would require amending the
Canadian Constitution. The last new province, Newfoundland, was brought into the country in 1949 by an
act of the British Parliament. Joining as a territory would be easier, as territories can be created by an act
of Canadian federal law.
Akrotiri and Dhekelia
Also known as the Sovereign Base Area Cyprus, Akrotiri and Dhekelia are two British military bases
located in southeast Cyprus. British troops and their families are stationed there permanently and the base
areas are sovereign British territory. They were retained by the United Kingdom after Cyprus became
independent in 1960.
DEPENDENCIES OF AUSTRALIA AND
ASSOCIATED STATES OF NEW ZEALAND
There are seven Australian external territories, two New Zealand dependent territories and two New
Zealand associated states: the Cook Islands and Niue.
The British Union Flag, commonly known as the Union Jack, still flies around the world today, mostly in
the upper left corner of national flags, usually blue or red, of some other Commonwealth countries such
as Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands and Bermuda. Even though it is no
longer in the Canadian flag since 1965, the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Manitoba still have it. This
shows the unity of these countries in the great British family of nations around the world. Even the U.S.
State of Hawaii still has it!
The Effect of New Trading Blocks
on the Commonwealth
In the mid-twentieth century the Commonwealth was the leading economic community in the world.
Writing in 1956, Gunnar Myrdal compared the Commonwealth favourably to Western Europe as an
economic and political grouping. He commented that Western Europe lacked the Commonwealth s sense
of solidarity . By 1970, however, the Commonwealth had lost its raison d etre as an economic
association. In this year Britain launched its third, and this time successful, application for membership of
the European Economic Community (EEC).
Canada occupied an ambiguous position in the Commonwealth economic community. The Canadian
economy was second only to the British in size and industrial sophistication, but Canada was not a
member of the Sterling Area, the financial mechanism at the heart of Commonwealth economic
cooperation between 1940 and 1958. Even before the Second World War, the Canadian economy was
more closely integrated with the USA than with Britain. Naturally, this reliance on the USA inspired
some Canadians to promote the Commonwealth nexus as a counterweight. But the purpose of this paper
is not to discuss Canada s economic policy towards the Commonwealth, but rather to explain why the
Commonwealth ceased to offer a viable alternative to other economic arrangements.
The British Economic Complex
American officials in the 1950s characterized the global web of financial, economic, political, and
military relationships centred upon London as the British complex . The Commonwealth economic
community was a set of interlocking networks spanning the private and public sectors. A network is a
form of organisation that is intermediate between, at one extreme, impersonal interchange among
unrelated agents, and, at the other end extreme, a formal hierarchy controlled from the centre. Members of
a network interact with each other more than they interact with outsiders. Networks are not inherently
more or less efficient than other forms, but they can prove invaluable under particular circumstances. The
notion that the Commonwealth was a network, or group of networks, is an old one. The British statesman,
Stanley Baldwin, described the Commonwealth in 1924 as a network of contacts . In 1940 Keith
Hancock remarked that this network was intricate and intimate , although membership did not bar
intercourse with other nations. In the public sector, networks of ministers, civil servants, and central
bankers met regularly at Commonwealth economic conferences, and sat on committees and working
parties such as the Sterling Area Statistical Committee. These networks discussed the overall direction of
economic policy in the Commonwealth. But the Commonwealth was also permeated with networks of
bankers, traders, shipping companies, and manufacturers, whose decisions may or may not have been
consistent with the communiqués issued after Commonwealth economic conferences. These public and
private networks were interdependent. Cain and Hopkins stress the close links between policy-makers and
business leaders, especially in commerce and banking, at the core of the imperial network. It is not
suggested that each component of these networks possessed equal influence. Britain s voice carried far
more weight than New Zealand s, however the views of small countries could not be disregarded.
Networks depend on give and take, and require a high level of mutual trust.
Private sector networks were largely responsible for creating Britain s commercial empire between the
seventeenth and early twentieth centuries. It was only in the 1930s that economic cooperation between
governments of empire countries developed along systematic lines, in response to the global crisis of
1929-33. Sterling left gold in 1931. India and the Dominions, except Canada due to its proximity to the
USA, resolved to fix their currencies against sterling, instead of letting them float or fixing them against
gold or the US dollar, and thereby formed the Sterling Bloc. The establishment of central banks in India
and the Dominions facilitated greater monetary cooperation. In 1932 Britain abandoned free trade and
imposed tariffs or quotas on most imports from foreign countries, while continuing to grant duty-free
status to empire produce. Empire countries, including Canada, reciprocated by raising tariffs on non-
British manufactures. The Ottawa Agreements codified the system of Imperial Preference.
During the 1940s, the need for cooperation between Britain and other Commonwealth governments
intensified. Notwithstanding the provision of aid by the USA and Canada, Britain and the sterling
Commonwealth remained desperately short of US and Canadian dollars to pay for essential imports. By
1945, the Sterling Bloc had evolved into the more restrictive Sterling Area. Members of the Sterling Area
imposed various restrictions, including exchange and import controls, on dollar expenditure, and
deposited dollar earnings into a central pool in return for additional sterling balances. Sterling balances
could be converted into dollars to pay for imports from North America. Each year some parts of the
Sterling Area were in deficit, others in surplus, with the dollar area. Fewer dollars in total were needed
under this system than under the alternative of separate reserves in each country. Pooling freed member
countries from the need to earn dollars directly. Since the US market for agricultural produce was tightly
protected, it would have been difficult for countries like Australia and New Zealand to earn enough
dollars by their own efforts. Under pooling, however, they could draw dollars that had been earned by
British manufacturers and tropical colonies. Not all members of the Sterling Area had the same rights.
Britain controlled dollar expenditure by the colonies, and restricted the freedom of India, Pakistan,
Ceylon, Burma, Iraq, and Egypt to convert sterling balances accumulated between 1939 and 1945.
Australia and New Zealand faced no formal constraints on their dollar spending.
The economic goals of most governments in the early post-war period were reconstruction, stability, and
full employment. After the traumas of the 1920s and 1930s, few outside North America had faith in
unfettered market forces. The possibility that the world economy would fall back into depression could
not be ignored. According to the economic thinking of the time, demand shocks were transmitted from
country to country by fluctuations in exports and imports. A decline in exports relative to imports led to a
leakage of spending and a reduction in economic activity. For example, if economic activity were to fall
in the USA, Americans would buy fewer imports, and consequently in the Sterling Area aggregate
demand would fall and unemployment rise. In theory, however, the Sterling Area apparatus made it
possible to match any reduction in exports with an equal reduction in imports, leaving aggregate demand
and employment unchanged.
Demands from the USA, supported by Canadian, for the abandonment of dollar discrimination did not
prevail in the late 1940s. A brief flirtation, in 1947, with the free convertibility of sterling into dollars for
current account transactions, ended in embarrassment when the dollar reserves collapsed. Similarly, early
post-war attempts to negotiate the abolition of Imperial (or Commonwealth) Preference produced
disappointing results for the Americans. Though the members of the Commonwealth Preference Area
(CPA) surrendered the right to increase preference margins, in the GATT negotiations only Canada
actually made deep cuts in preferences. Other Commonwealth countries held back because Washington
declined to offer larger concessions. As the Cold War intensified, however, the Americans grew more
tolerant of the Commonwealth economic community. The Commonwealth was America s only credible
ally, and therefore had to be accommodated.
Self-interest was one element in the willingness of independent Commonwealth nations to cooperate with
Britain in the management of the Sterling Area and the CPA. As British officials put it in 1956,
are accustomed to trade with us, as we are with them. That is why it is in
their interest that their currencies are tied to sterling, and the fact that their currencies are tied to sterling
increases the tendency for us to trade with each other.
Aside from the benefits of dollar pooling, Sterling
Area countries enjoyed indirect access to dollar loans and aid obtained by Britain. It was to the advantage
of sterling balance holders to protect the value of sterling, and thereby to avoid a capital loss.
Furthermore, tariff preferences were regarded as useful bargaining counters in negotiations with other
countries, and therefore not to be sacrificed lightly. The collapse of the Ottawa Agreements would have
brought into question the right of Commonwealth primary producers to enjoy unrestricted duty-free
access to the British market, as well as Britain s disposition to permit Sterling Area governments to float
loans in London. Commonwealth and Sterling Area countries would have been worse off in the short term
if they had refused to cooperate. The Sterling Area and the CPA were useful networks because of the
increased transaction costs of doing business with non-members as a result of the disruption of
international markets, the dollar gap, and US agricultural protectionism. Britain and, to a lesser degree,
Canada occupied pivotal positions within this complex, due to their wealth and their ability to intercede
with the USA on behalf of other members. It was the British, in response to an Australian request, who
persuaded the Americans to allow Marshall Aid funds to be applied to cover the dollar deficit of the Rest
of the Sterling Area (RSA).
Relationships within the Sterling Area and the CPA were strengthened by trust. Casson suggests that
cooperation among nations is harder to sustain than cooperation among firms, since political leaders have
short electoral time horizons, and little incentive to invest in a good reputation abroad. In the
Commonwealth, however, the temptation to act opportunistically was balanced by the unifying bonds of a
shared language, history, and culture. Judd Polk, an American observer, contended that solidarity,
reinforced by habit and informality, was an important, if intangible, characteristic of the Sterling Area as
an international organisation. Solidarity was not confined to politicians and officials of British birth, such
as the New Zealand statesmen Peter Fraser and Walter Nash, or even British ancestry. According to
Mansergh, the leaders of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon were easily incorporated into the highest councils of
the Commonwealth in the late 1940s. He added that the Commonwealth did not cease to be a fraternal
association , in Churchill s phrase, until after Suez. Trust was particularly important for the smooth
working of the Sterling Area. Britain relied on independent members of this group to regulate imports so
as to ensure that the central pool did not run out of dollars. During successive balance of payments crises,
the RSA responded to calls for restraint, and the Sterling Area survived. A combination of Sentiment ,
Tradition , and Interest counteracted the temptation for Commonwealth countries to behave
opportunistically. The Sterling Area and the CPA were as ad hoc defensive networks against the
economic impact of depression, war, dollar shortage, and uncertainty. They provided members with a
degree of insulation from external shocks, although it was not imagined that either would be self-
Erosion Of The Commonwealth Economic Complex
The medley of networks that comprised the Commonwealth as an economic community decayed during
the 1950s and the 1960s. At the micro-economic level, Britain lost its leadership in world shipping, and
its competitive advantage in many branches of manufacturing. Customers in the Commonwealth were to a
limited extent prepared to pay more for a British than for an equivalent foreign product, in view of the
low transaction costs of going through familiar British companies. As British firms continued to lose
competitiveness, however, a point came at which customers did switch to foreign products and
commercial networks. Disengagement is also discernible at the inter-governmental level. The growth in
political disunity in the Commonwealth was not conducive to economic cooperation. Suez destroyed
Britain s credibility as a world power. The Macmillan government scuttled the African remnants of
empire, after they had been devalued in the imperial economic audit of 1957, thus completing the
transformation of the Commonwealth from a cozy club into [just] another international association .
Nevertheless, the British endeavoured to hand power over to responsible successors in order to protect
residual business and political interests in these countries. This strategy was most successful in Britain s
most profitable colony, Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Even in Malaya, though, goodwill
towards Britain diminished as new politicians and civil servants rose to prominence. Apartheid, Rhodesia,
Biafra, and Kashmir divided the Commonwealth during the 1960s, and crowded out discussion of
economic cooperation. Harold Wilson, who came to power in 1964, wished to revitalize the
Commonwealth as an economic association, by linking the development plans of Asian and African
members to the expansion of Britain s capital goods industries. Agreement on the basis of Wilson s
project was impossible under the conditions prevailing in the mid-1960s. Australia was Britain s most
important export outlet during the 1950s. Fieldhouse describes sterling markets as Britain s lifeline
between the 1930s and early 1950s. By 1960, however, the share of the Commonwealth in British exports
was falling, while the shares of Western Europe and the USA were rising. The relative decline of
Commonwealth trade preceded Britain s membership of the EEC. Western Europe s rising share of
British trade, between 1955 and 1970, merely restored the state of affairs pertaining before the First
World War. But Western Europe s share of British exports continued to grow during the 1970s and
1980s. The EEC required Britain, which became a member in 1973, to discriminate against non-members.
Wartime discussions between the leading Allies
the USA, Britain, and Canada
focussed on how
stability could be restored to the world economy. It was in principle resolved to establish multilateral
organisations to manage the post-war international economy. The purpose of the first of these bodies, the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) was to reduce currency instability, eliminate restrictions on current
account transactions, and prevent international financial crises. IMF members were obliged to fix their
exchange rates against the US dollar, and to progress towards non-discriminatory and unrestricted
payments. Significant changes in exchange rates required the approval of the IMF. Members could
borrow from the IMF when in difficulty, but the more they borrowed the tighter the conditions imposed,
and the greater the IMF s interference in their economic policies. One of the advantages of IMF
membership was eligibility to join the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD or
World Bank), an increasingly important source of capital for development projects. The Bretton Woods
institutions (the IMF and the IBRD) offered a rival structure, and source of legitimacy, to the Sterling
Area. Attitudes in the Sterling Area towards the IMF were ambivalent. The IMF was highly critical of the
Sterling Area s regime of dollar discrimination in the early 1950s.
Britain and the RSA endorsed the principles of non-discrimination and current account convertibility, and
accepted the need for international coordination. After 1947, however, the Sterling Area declined to be
pushed into the premature resumption of convertibility. The phasing out of dollar discrimination, starting
in the mid-1950s, and the resumption of convertibility in 1958, highlighted the self-liquidating aspects of
the Sterling Area. Schenk concludes that the Sterling Area was a temporary expedient.2The Sterling Area
became increasingly irrelevant after 1958, and members gradually reduced their holdings of sterling. As
regards commercial policy, in 1945 the Americans proposed an International Trade Organisation (ITO).
Though the ITO did not win the endorsement of the US Congress, its place was taken by the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
Prior to the formal discussion of these schemes, the British, under intense US pressure, had conceded the
principle of no new preferences. The sterling Dominions resented, but later accepted, this concession,
which precluded the extension of the Ottawa system while Britain and other Commonwealth countries
were members of GATT. The Commonwealth was unable negotiate as a bloc in GATT. Canada
enthusiastically supported GATT, but Australia and New Zealand were suspicious of this institution. At
several points, Britain and Australia attempted to modify the no new preference (NNP) rule. However,
foreign members of GATT vetoed any retreat from the NNP rule, while even the Commonwealth was
divided over this issue. Asian countries were lukewarm about Commonwealth Preference, which they
regarded as a remnant of colonialism. Peter Thorneycroft, the President of the Board of Trade, advised the
British Cabinet, in 1954, to refrain from insisting on reform of the NNP rule, as this would cause a rift
between Britain, Australia, and New Zealand in one camp, and Canada, India, and Pakistan in the other
The exchange of British manufactures for imperial primary produce was at the heart of the imperial
economic system. While several parts of the empire, including Canada, Australia, and, after 1917, India,
placed tariffs on imports from Britain, it was not until after 1945 that import substitution industrialization
(ISI) became a cornerstone of economic policy in the underdeveloped and semi-developed world. The
purposes of ISI were to foster economic development, strengthen the capacity for national defence, and
reduce dependency on more advanced nations.
During the late 1930s and the Second World War, Britain encouraged the establishment of munitions-
related industries in the empire. It was recognized, for example, that Australia could not be defended in
the absence of a large increase in population and military capacity. British and Australian ministers
agreed in 1938 that a substantial rise in the Australian population was in the interests of the Empire as a
whole , and that this would entail further industrialization. Hancock pointed out that, in view of the
Japanese and German threats, economic nationalism in the Dominions could be consistent with the
highest imperial priorities. Industrial decentralization within the British Empire was a rational response to
Britain s inability to guarantee maritime communications. British ministers advocated the development of
a modern engineering industry in India, so that this country could make a mechanized contribution to
imperial defence. Nevertheless, ISI cut against the grain of British industrial interests, which were to
supply Commonwealth countries with a full range of imported manufactures.
Employers on the UK Engineering Advisory Council complained, in 1952, that Commonwealth countries
were making strong efforts to develop their secondary industries, even when these are uneconomic. Not
only did ISI undermine exports, but it also drew resources out of primary production, leading to higher
food and raw material costs in Britain. ISI was particularly damaging to the interests of British
manufacturers of consumer products. Although import substitution policies created opportunities for
exporters of capital goods, firms in this branch of engineering experienced declining competitive
advantage relative to European, US, and Japanese producers. India was the most systematic exponent of
ISI in the Commonwealth. Instead of investing in light industries, India was determined to modernize in
depth, starting with heavy industries. This semi-autarchic strategy did not bode well for trade with Britain.
In fact India s partial withdrawal from the international economy seriously reduced the scope for the
Commonwealth to develop as an economic community. The persistent use of tariffs and import controls
against British goods was a source of tension in the Commonwealth during the 1950s and 1960s.
Although New Zealand lacked a coherent ISI programme, it restricted imports from all sources in order
to safeguard the balance of payments, which was chronically weak due to zealous full employment
Small-scale manufacturing firms expanded in this insulated environment, and import controls were
tweaked in their favour whenever they were under threat. Britain often remonstrated with New Zealand.
For instance, in 1966 the British submitted a list of exports, including televisions, gin, coffin furniture,
and vices, with respect to which they alleged unfair treatment by New Zealand. Britain also faced the
possibility of growing competition from Commonwealth manufactures in the UK domestic market. In
1956, the British Cabinet noted that problems might arise from the industrialisation of the Colonies,
based on very low costs , as the United Kingdom would be unable to absorb Colonial manufactures in
large quantities without harming sunset industries such as cotton. Most colonial and Commonwealth
manufactures were imported duty-free under the Ottawa Agreements. The government finally intervened
in 1959 to impose a rather loose quota scheme on cotton textile imports from India, Pakistan and Hong
Kong. In the 1960s, Britain was a party to the Short-Term and Long-Term Arrangements in GATT, which
permitted Western countries to regulate textile imports from the Third World. By participating in these
schemes, Britain was retreating from the principle of Commonwealth free entry under the auspices of a
Many British firms responded to ISI by opening subsidiaries in the countries concerned. Indeed, this
tendency was visible before 1939. The geographical distribution of British FDI was skewed towards the
Commonwealth until the surge of investment in Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. Large firms, such as ICI,
Unilever, and BMC, were in a better position than were smaller firms to make the transition from
exporting to FDI. Some companies were coerced into establishing joint ventures in Commonwealth
countries on pain of the grant of exclusive rights to foreign rivals. Leyland Motors investment in India in
the 1950s was made against the backdrop of such a threat. British plants in the Commonwealth suffered
from the same competitive malaise as manufacturers in the UK. Several large British companies opened
works in Malaysia, in the 1960s, to make consumer goods for the local market. Although initially
successful, these businesses wilted when Japanese companies also set up plants in Malaysia. Import
substitution undermined the British economic complex. Dissatisfaction with the erection of barriers
against British exports inclined policy-makers in London to pay greater attention to the potential of
Agricultural development, the British counterpart to ISI, caused as much anxiety to Dominion farmers as
import substitution did to manufacturers in Manchester and Birmingham. During the 1930s, Britain
introduced food tariffs on many agricultural imports, including foreign dairy produce and beef, and quotas
on foreign beef. Imports from the empire, however, remained free of duty. At the same time, certain
products, notably wheat, continued to be imported duty-free and in unlimited quantities from all sources.
War and its aftermath disrupted the British food economy, and the government entered into long-term
contracts with Commonwealth countries in order to ensure supplies. Britain encouraged the Dominions,
with mixed results, to expand their primary producing capacity. For several reasons, including fear of
renewed blockade, concern about the import bill, and farmers insistence on higher living standards, the
1945-51 Labour government introduced a lavish system of agricultural subsidies called deficiency
payments. Britain s output of temperate foodstuffs grew rapidly under these benign conditions.
As the world food shortage abated, the Churchill government terminated the long-term food contracts in
1953-54, and loosened controls over food imports from the dollar area. Britain refused to join the revised
International Wheat Agreement (IWA) in 1953, arguing that its price range was too high. The British
welcomed the dumping of food surpluses by foreign countries, as this helped to contain the cost of living.
Moreover, Commonwealth food preferences, which were specific rather than ad valorem, had been
eroded by inflation since 1939. Commonwealth suppliers were squeezed between the deficiency
payments scheme and foreign competition. Farmers in the Dominions considered that they had been
betrayed. Geoffrey Scoones, the British High Commissioner, reported on opinion in New Zealand: Her
Majesty s Government s frequent exhortations to New Zealand since the war to increase her exports of
are very much in New Zealand minds
it is felt here that such exhortations cannot now be
unsaid, and that they, no less than the Ottawa Agreement, place an obligation on Her Majesty s
Government to assure New Zealand producers a remunerative return in the United Kingdom market.
As the cost of deficiency payments mounted, Whitehall began to search for an alternative means of
assisting British farmers. In 1962, Nicholas Soames, the Minister of Agriculture, suggested that, whatever
the outcome of negotiations for EEC membership, Britain should introduce variable import levies or
quantitative restrictions on cereal and meat imports from all sources. He noted that Britain had the right to
terminate at six months notice the agreements under which Commonwealth food was imported in
unrestricted quantities. Cabinet decided in 1963 to work towards a regime of minimum import prices for
cereals, and voluntary restrictions on beef and lamb imports. In the event, it proved impossible to agree
with suppliers on the control of meat imports, except bacon, but an understanding was reached with
Australia, Canada and other exporters on a regime of minimum import prices and market sharing for
Although Commonwealth producers encountered far fewer restrictions in Britain than elsewhere, the
thrust of British policy was hostile towards traditional suppliers. Regardless of policy changes, however,
Britain would not have been able to absorb the Commonwealth s rising food surpluses at remunerative
prices, in view of the slow growth of the population, and the low income elasticity of demand for food.
London s position as the world s principal capital market was undermined by the two world wars. Britain
needed Canadian as well as American Lend-Lease aid during the Second World War, and in 1946 Canada
granted Britain a generous loan of C$1.25 billion. India, Egypt, Australia, and other parts of the Sterling
Area also provided Britain with large wartime credits, which accounted for the rapid growth in sterling
balances. However, Britain intended to resume its role as a capital exporter once the international
economic situation returned to normality. Due to the parlous state of the balance of payments, overseas
governments, public agencies, and companies required official sanction to issue debt on the London
market after the war. Preference was given to borrowers from sterling countries, but even they were
rationed. Unable to raise sufficient capital in Britain to support an ambitious development programme,
Australia turned to the World Bank, in 1950, for a loan of US$100 million.
World Bank borrowing relieved Australia s dollar shortage, and enabled it to buy more American
equipment. Australia returned to the World Bank on a number of occasions. At the 1952 Commonwealth
Economic Conference, Britain, under pressure from the rest of the Commonwealth, agreed to make a
special effort to provide more capital for development projects. However, it was acknowledged that the
Sterling Area also needed to attract much more foreign, and especially American, capital. The Colombo
Plan was a Commonwealth initiative, proposed in 1950, to provide economic assistance to Asian
developing countries. As the British were short of capital, they persuaded the Americans to make a
financial contribution, even though thus compromised the Colombo Plan s branding as Commonwealth
scheme. While Canada became an important capital exporter in the 1950s and 1960s, the bulk of its
investments were in the USA not the Sterling Area.
By 1956-57, British government attitudes towards investment in the Commonwealth were hardening. Sir
Frank Lee, the Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade, was in no doubt about the need for a change of
course. We are clearly over investing abroad (particularly in the Commonwealth) and under-investing at
But what troubles me particularly
is the ingrained belief in so many Commonwealth countries
that the U.K. must finance somehow or another the great part of what are thought to be their essential
investment needs (usually on the basis of a very rapid rate of economic growth) ... My belief is therefore
that we shall be forced to a drastic reconsideration of our overseas investment policy, particularly in the
Commonwealth ... I fully realise that a substantial contraction
of our investment in the Commonwealth
would be likely to involve very serious political and other consequences
e.g. the future of the sterling
area as we know it would be in question ... [but I am] very sceptical indeed about the real advantage to us
of maintaining the sterling area
Lee contended that too much British capital had been wasted on
prestigious, but uncommercial, development schemes, with the result that British industry had been
starved of capital for modernization. British industry s lacklustre performance, especially against
European and Japanese competition, was a matter of growing concern. Over the longterm,
Britain s ability to provide the Commonwealth with fresh capital depended on British industry s
international competitiveness. Without a current account surplus, Britain could not be a net exporter of
capital. These issues were given careful consideration in 1956-57. Although the British resolved not to
impose additional restrictions on lending to the RSA, they used higher interest rates to deter overseas
borrowing. Britain urged Commonwealth governments to borrow in New York, and to join the IMF and
World Bank, if, like New Zealand, they were not yet members. In 1966, as sterling came under renewed
pressure, British investors were asked to reduce capital outflows to the Sterling Area. The practical
impact of these voluntary controls is uncertain. The point is that they signalled a tougher British stance.
Britain remained the principal source of capital inflows (direct plus portfolio) into Commonwealth
countries, with the notable exception of Canada, during the 1950s and 1960s. Even so, the demand for
capital imports exceeded Britain s willingness to supply capital. The USA, the World Bank, Japan, and
continental Europe supplemented British capital flows to a greater or lesser extent. As regards FDI, the
growing involvement of foreign, and especially American, subsidiaries reflected their ability to offer
superior processes, products, or brands compared with British firms. In Australia, General Motors-
Holden, Ford, International Harvester, Chrysler, Goodyear, Kodak, Nestlé, Philips, and Volkswagen were
ranked among the top 100 companies in 1964. As the pattern of capital flows changed, Commonwealth
countries reduced their dependence on British components, technology, and management services. Hence
the Commonwealth economic network experienced further erosion. To fully appreciate the significance of the Commonwealth, Britain's global position, and the proposal for
a Federal Commonwealth, it is important to understand its origins from the British Empire. Technically,
there have been three empires, the first in France, mostly lost by 1455; the second in North America,
which became the United States of America after 1776; and the third was global, which became the
modern Commonwealth of Nations after 1949. Each one being larger than the one before.
The origins of the British Empire can be seen as going back to the Middle Ages with the beginning of the
conquest of Ireland (1169) and conquest of much of France during the Hundred Years' War. However, the
modern British Empire can be considered having started in 1497 with John Cabot's claim
to Newfoundland. The British Empire was the largest Empire in history; At it's zenith, it held sway over a
population of nearly 500 million people - roughly a quarter of the world's population - and covered about
14.3 million square miles (17.4 million including Antarctic claims), almost a third of the world's total
land area. During the mid-19th century Britain was the sole developed hyper-power, enjoying
unparalleled prosperity. Britain was "the work-shop of the world," and even by 1870 she still was
producing well over 30% of the global industrial output, no other nation coming even close to her
In 1885 America and Germany can be considered as having become industrialised, but Britain was still
the world's most developed nation until around 1913 when she was surpassed by America. Due to the
supremacy of the Royal Navy, Britain truly did rule the waves for centuries. With territories scattered
across every continent and ocean and in every time-zone, the "Empire Under Palm and Pine" was
accurately described as "the empire on which the sun never sets." The Empire facilitated the spread of
British technology, commerce, language, and government around much of the globe through Pax
Britannica and British Imperial hegemony. The contributions the British Empire made to the world, the
technology, philosophy, literature, medicine, investment, institutions, and plain advancements of
mankind have left a profound legacy.
The British Empire consisted of various territories all over the world conquered or colonized by Britain
from about 1600. It was expanded by commerce, trade, colonization, and sometimes conquest. Over all
the Empire was built on commerce, not conquest. There were colonies conquered, but they were done for
a reason. For instance, France hired the Mughal Empire to fight Britain, Britain then fought back and
conquered the Mughal Empire which made up the Northwest corner of present day India. The 19th
century saw the largest expansion of the Empire as the British took many former French possessions in
the West Indies and began to settle in large numbers in Australia in the early part of the century and later
competed fiercely with other European powers for territory in Africa.
At the same time, there was serious expansion in Asia, notably the acquisition of Singapore (1824), Hong
Kong (1841), and Burma (1886), and the South Pacific, particularly the settlement of New Zealand
(1840). The final big expansion of the empire was following World War I, when former German and
Turkish territories were mandated to Britain and the Dominions. The only serious loss of territory was the
loss of the 13 American colonies in the American Revolution of 1776
1783, which became the United
States of America.
The British Empire was at its largest after the First World War after 1918, consisting of over 25% of the
world's population and 30% of its area. Since 1949, the British Empire was replaced by the
Commonwealth of Nations. Most colonies are now independent; today s Commonwealth is composed of
former and remaining territories of the British Empire.
Building the Empire
The first successful British colony was Jamestown, Virginia, founded in 1607, although there was an
earlier settlement at Newfoundland in 1583. The Empire was gradually built over the next two centuries
as the British established colonies and trading posts in many parts of the world, as well as capturing them
from other European empire builders. Settlements were made in Gambia and on the Gold Coast of Africa
in 1618; in Bermuda in 1609 and other islands of the West Indies; Jamaica was taken from Spain in 1655;
in Canada, Acadia (Nova Scotia) was secured from France by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which
recognized Newfoudland and Hudson Bay (as well as Gibraltar in Europe) as British. New France (much
of Canada) became British as a result of the Seven Years' War of 1756-63.
In North America, the Thirteen Colonies along the Atlantic seaboard between French Canada and Spanish
Florida were firmly established by 1733. The colonists had begun to plant cotton in the 17th century, and
this plantation crop was grown on a very large scale by the late-18th century. This combined with a
scattering of settlements in West Africa and the trade from the West Indies to create the `Triangular
Trade': British ships took manufactured goods and spirits to West Africa to exchange them for slaves
which they landed in the West Indies and the southernmost of the Thirteen Colonies. The ships then
returned to Britain with cargoes of cotton, rum, sugar, and tobacco, produced mainly by the labour of the
slaves. Britain's prosperity was bound up with the slave trade, until it became illegal in 1807, by which
time the Empire had ceased to be dependent upon the slave trade as other forms of commerce had become
more profitable and Britain was starting to emerge as the leading industrial nation, inevitably reducing the
economic demand for slave labour. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Empire made Britain one of
the richest and most powerful nations in the world.
Exploration to Colonisation
The early growth of the Empire was not laid down in any coordinated plan and it was held together and
administered by whatever means seemed most expedient for a particular time and place. Pirates, traders,
soldiers, explorers, financial speculators, missionaries, convicts, and refugees all played a part in creating
the British Empire. Private individuals or companies often provided the initial impetus for the exploration
and subsequent exploitation of foreign lands, frequently in the face of government reluctance, but,
increasingly, British governments were drawn in to maintain them. One of the early pioneers of British
settlement in North America was William Penn, who gave his name to Pennsylvania.
The British ruling class developed a great interest in science during the 17th and 18th centuries and what
started out as inquiry and exploration usually led to settlement and eventually colonization. Between 1768
and 1780, scientific naval expeditions commanded by Captain Cook explored the islands and coasts of the
Pacific Ocean all the way from the entrance to the Arctic to the then unknown coasts of New Zealand and
Australia. However, the British government showed little interest in annexing these southern lands until
the loss of the American colonies deprived it of a dumping ground for the convicts and debtors who had
up until then been deported to North America. Perhaps the best-known example of private initiative
leading the way was the East India Company. An important exception was in the West Indies, where
many members of Parliament had commercial interests and so there was frequent government
intervention. However, as the Empire grew, Britain became a rich and powerful nation and by the late
19th century British policy tended towards imperialism, annexing countries for reasons of national
prestige rather than solely for commercial gain.
British missionaries of all denominations took the Christian religion throughout the Empire. Although
they made relatively little impression in places where advanced religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, or
Islam dominated, even in those areas their converts numbered several millions. Their success was greater
in the West Indies and in Africa south of the Sahara. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary, explored
much of what is now Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Like several other intrepid explorers, such as
Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, and Sir Samuel Baker, Livingstone explored the River Nile. His
journeys also took him to the Zambezi River and to lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa (now Malawi).
Following Livingstone's journeys, the Free Church of Scotland sent a mission to Nyasaland (now Malawi)
in 1875, and the country became a British protectorate in 1891, a year after Bechuanaland (Botswana).
For almost four centuries following the Norman conquest in 1066, England was dominated by Kings who
were often more concerned with their holdings in France. For fully three quarters of the time they were
Henry III was succeeded in 1272 by his son, the warrior King Edward I. He finally conquered Wales in
1282, and made it a principality to be held by the heir to the English throne. Scotland became a
dependency in 1290. It regained its independence under Robert the Bruce in 1328, although with a border
adjusted in favour of England by Edward III in 1334. By then, the Plantagenets were again preoccupied
with France. In 1331, Edward III, grandson of Edward I, had declined to do homage to the King of
France, breaking the custom which had been established in 1066. He did so because not because he
wanted England to be independent from France, but because he had decided (not without some justice)
that his claim to the throne of France was stronger than its incumbent, Phillip VI. He made this claim
official in 1337, beginning the Hundred Years War (which actually lasted until 1453, with occasional
truces). Edward overrun all of Aquitaine, but could not gain recognition of his claim to the French throne.
In 1360 he abandoned that claim in return for recognition of his conquests. By this time, the ruling class
in England had begun speaking English rather than French, although the royal family remained bilingual.
By 1455, for the first time since 1066 the Kingdom of England had no significant connections with the
Continent. This was to continue under the Tudors (1485-1603) who instead concentrated upon bringing
the whole British Isles under their rule. The siege of Orleans failed when the French were spurred to take
the initiative by Joan of Arc. Although she was captured and judiciously murdered in 1431, her
achievements had shattered the English reputation for invincibility. By 1453 England had lost all its
holdings in France (except for Calais, which it kept for another century, and the Channel Isles, which still
remain). By this time, the Kingdom of England was on the verge of civil war, between the junior
Plantagenet houses of Lancaster (under the mad King Henry VI) and York (under Richard, his regent,
who had claimed the throne). The war was to last 30 years (1455-85), and allowed the Scots to regain
their pre-1334 frontier. The "wars of the Roses" -- both houses had Roses as their symbols -- would see
the end of many noble families, creating new opportunities for "native" English and Welsh families.
Indeed, the Lancastrian victor of 1485 was Henry Tudor, whose surname was derived from his Welsh
grandfather. Many Welshmen even saw Henry VII's victory, at the head of a largely Welsh army, as
fulfilling the prophecy that they would one day regain all of Britain. In 1536 his son Henry VIII removed
the political institutions that had stigmatized Wales as a conquered country, but the new united Kingdom
was still generally known as England, and it was English law which prevailed. Henry VIII is most famous
of course for founding the church of England in 1534. Its ambiguous status (anti-Papist, but not really
Protestant) and imposition from above caused recurrent religious and political problems in the Kingdom
for a century and a half. It also made it necessary for Ireland to be made a Kingdom in 1541, in personal
union with the Kingdom of England, because the lordship of Ireland had been a Papal grant. During the
reign of Henry VIII's daughter Elizabeth I (1558-1603), English rule over Ireland was made effective for
the first time. In her reign, the English fleet enabled England to found its first trans-oceanic colonies (in
North America) and prevented an invasion by Europe's greatest power by defeating the Spanish Armada
On the death of the childless Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, the Kingdoms of England and Ireland
were inherited by her nephew, James Stuart, King of Scotland. In this way the British Isles came under
one monarch for the first time. Although James considered himself King of Great Britain (and Ireland),
the parliaments of England and Scotland remained independent of each other. Shortly afterwards the first
really successful English colony in North America, was established.
THE ENGLISH EMPIRE IN 1360
Scottish project to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama (Darién). In 1695, the Scottish Parliament
passed an act that chartered a company for trading with Africa and the Indies. William Paterson directed
the first efforts of the company to found a colony on the Isthmus of Panama to compete with the Dutch
and Spanish for trade. Stock was subscribed in England and Scotland, but opposition by the English
government and by the East India Company caused English investors to withdraw. The company's two
expeditions (1698, 1699) failed because of poor leadership and equipment, disease, and the hostility of the
Spanish; many lives were lost. The failure, with its immense losses to Scottish investors, vividly
demonstrated Scotland's commercial disadvantage outside the British realm. By the terms of the Act of
Union with England (1707), Scotland secured equality in trade. Investors in the Darién venture were
partially indemnified for their losses
Today's British state is the latest of several unions formed over the last 1000 years. Scotland and England
have existed as separate unified entities since the 10th century. Wales, under English control since the
Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, became part of the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Act 1535.
With the Act of Union 1707, the separate kingdoms of England and Scotland, having shared the same
monarch since 1603, agreed to a permanent union as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The Act of
Union 1800 united the United Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, which had been
gradually brought under English control between 1169 and 1691, to form the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland.
After bitter fighting which echoes down to the current political strife, the Anglo-Irish Treaty partitioned
Ireland into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland in 1921, with the latter remaining part of the United
Kingdom. As provided for in the treaty, Northern Ireland, which consists of six of the nine counties of the
Irish province of Ulster, immediately opted out of the Free State and to remain in the UK. The
nomenclature of the UK was changed in 1927 to recognise the departure of most of Ireland, with the
current name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland being adopted. A devolved
Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Irish Assembly were established in 1999.
James Stuart, King of
Scotland and England
The United Kingdom, the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, played a leading
role in developing Western world ideas of property, liberty, capitalism and parliamentary democracy - to
say nothing of its part in advancing world literature and science. At its zenith during the first half of the
20th century, the British Empire stretched over one quarter of the earth's surface.
The effects of World War I and World War II saw the UK's strength seriously depleted. The second half
of the 20th century saw the replacement of the Empire with the Commonwealth of Nations and the UK
Much of France was held by the English kings after the Norman conquest of England in 1066. However,
this was gradually lost to the French by 1455. The Channel Islands off the French coast, consisting of the
Bailwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and smaller islands of Sark and Alderney, remained English and are
now Dependencies of the British Crown. The Isle of Man, situated in the Irish Sea, half way between
England and Ireland, is also a Crown Dependency. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not parts
of the United Kingdom, like England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but are self-governing
Dependencies with a direct link to the British Crown, but not the British Government.
During the War of Spanish Succession, which began in 1701, Gibraltar, a peninsular on the southern tip
of Spain, in the Mediterranean, was besieged (1704) by a squadron commanded by Sir George Rooke and
a land force of 1800 English and Dutch under Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt; after three days the city
was captured (24 July). In 1713, by the Treaty of Utrecht, it became definitively a British possession,
though many attempts were made by the Spaniards to regain it.
To this day, Gibraltar remains a British possession. In 1998, it ceased to have the status of a Crown
Colony and became a British Dependent Territory. Its residents are British Overseas Citizens. Spain does
not recognize British control of Gibraltar and still claims it as part of its territory.
During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800 s, the British recognized that Malta was essential for the
British fleet in the Mediterranean. It was captured by the British from the French in 1800 and finally
recognized as a British colony in the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Malta became a self-governing Dominion in
1921, but then reverted back to the status of a Crown Colony in 1933 for financial reasons.
During the Second World War, in 1941 and 1942, Malta was besieged and fiercely bombarded by both
German and Italian aircraft. King George VI awarded the island the George Cross medal on 15 April
1942 for gallantry in withstanding the enemy air bombardment. Internal self-government was established
in Malta in September 1947.
Also as a result of the Napoleonic wars, Britain gained control of the island of Heligoland, off the
northwest coast of Germany, in 1814. This was given to Germany in 1890 in exchange for British control
of Zanzibar, off the east coast of Africa, next to then German East Africa (later British Tanganyika).
Another prize of the Napoleonic Wars, was the Ionian Islands in the Mediterranean off the coast of
Greece. The British drove the French out of the islands and annexed them in 1814. They were transferred
to Greek control in 1863 out of respect for the wishes of the majority of its people.
Today, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are all members of the European Union.
Gibraltar, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man remain British Dependencies, but are not considered to
be parts of the European Union.
The West Indies was a very attractive target for colonization due to the huge commercial possibilities of
the region, mainly the rum and sugar produced there.
Bermuda was settled in 1609. It has the oldest Parliament outside of Britain. Between 1623 and 1632,
English settlers occupied St Kitts, Barbados, St Croix (later lost), Nevis, Antigua, and Montserrat.
Cromwell's forces took Jamaica from the Spaniards in 1655, although it was not officially ceded until
1760, and the tiny Atlantic island of St Helena was annexed in 1673. Belize (British Honduras) was
governed as part of Jamaica until 1884.
In 1678, England also took control of the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua in Central America. The Clayton-
Bulwer Treaty (1850) between the United States and Great Britain checked British expansion, but
relinquishment of the coast was delayed until a separate treaty was concluded with Nicaragua (1860),
which established the autonomy of the so-called Mosquito Kingdom. In 1894, the territory's anomalous
position was ended when it was forcibly incorporated it into Nicaragua.
Following the early settlement in Virginia in 1607, British colonies spread up and down the east coast of
North America and by 1664, when the English secured New Amsterdam (New York) from the Dutch,
there was a continuous fringe of colonies from the present South Carolina in the south to what is now
GIBRALTAR AND MALTA
New Hampshire. These colonies, and others formed later, had their own democratic institutions. By 1720,
thirteen British colonies existed on what is now the eastern seaboard of the United States.
From 1756-1763, Britain, whose forces were led by James Wolfe, defeated France in North America and
took control of France s possessions in the continent, mostly in what is now Canada. Britain now
controlled the entire eastern half of North America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Islands.
A dispute regarding taxes, involving the American colonists, roused them to resistance under the
leadership of George Washington, which came to a head in the American Revolution of 1775-1781 and
led to the creation of the independent republic of the United States of America from the thirteen British
colonies. George Washington became the republic s first President. American colonists who remained
loyal to Great Britain, called United Empire Loyalists, fled to Canada and settled mostly in southern
Ontario and the Maritimes. Many Ontario cities and towns were founded by these loyalists.
The Canadian colonies, some of which were taken from France in 1763 remained loyal to Britain.
Constitutional development in Canada started with an act of 1791 which set up Lower Canada (Quebec),
mainly French-speaking, and Upper Canada (Ontario), mainly English-speaking.
In the War of 1812, the U.S.A. tried unsuccessfully to annex Canada. However, in both the Canadas, there
was sufficient discontent to lead to rebellion in 1837. After the suppression of these risings, Lord Durham
was sent out to advise on the affairs of British North America; his report, published in 1839, became the
basis for the future structure of the Empire. In accordance with his recommendations, the two Canadas
were united in 1840 and given a representative legislative council: the beginning of colonial self-
Fear of further American invasion of Canada led to a movement among leading Canadian colonial
politicians for a unified federation of the British North American colonies which would be strong, united,
self-governing and could defend itself.
With the British North America Act of 1867, the autonomous Dominion of Canada came into existence
with the union of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Later, further territories were
added until the federal government of the Dominion of Canada controlled all the northern part of the
continent, except Alaska, which belonged to the U.S.A. Manitoba in 1870, British Columbia in 1871,
Prince Edward Island in 1873, followed by Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905 all became provinces of
the Dominion. The British Government transferred the Arctic islands in the north to the Dominion
government in 1880.
Newfoundland, a self-governing Dominion from 1917, reverted back to the status of a Crown Colony in
1933 due to financial reasons. It became the last new province of Canada, joining the confederation in
1949, after a referendum.
Currently, a movement is underway to promote the idea of the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British colony
in the Caribbean, to possibly become Canada s eleventh province.
THE BRITISH NORTH AMERICAN EMPIRE IN 1763
South America is the one part of the world where British expansion was rather small. Only British
Guiana, taken from the Dutch in 1803, and the Falkland Islands, annexed in 1833, were successfully
added to the British Empire in this part of the world.
Venezuela claimed a large part of western British Guiana, which it still claims today. Britain, at one time,
did have plans for a much larger empire in South America. After the loss of the North American colonies,
the British decided to expand into the Spanish Colonies of South America.
DOMINION OF CANADA AND NEWFOUNDLAND
In 1795, a Scot by the name of Nicholas Vansittart wrote a white paper clearly outlining a way to take
South America away from Spain. The British Government initially approved the Vansittart plan but later
cancelled it, in 1797. A Scottish Major General, Sir Thomas Maitland, a friend of Nicholas Vasinttart,
revised the Vansittart plan in the early 1800's.
The British Government approved this plan and it subsequently changed its name to the Maitland plan.
The Maitland plan was put into effect during the Napoleonic War in 1806. Great Britain used the fact that
Spain was now technically an ally of France as the excuse to start the war.
Great Britain sent an expeditionary force of 1,600 men to invade Buenos Aires, in Argentina, under
General William Carr. This attempt failed.
A year later, an invasion army of 11,000 men arrived in Buenos Aires under the orders of General John
Whitelocke. At the same time, a second fleet with 4,000 men captured Montivedeo and used the city as a
staging post and communications centre. The Spanish colonial authorities in Buenos Aires were made to
swear allegiance to the British Crown. The people of Buenos Aires single-handedly defeated this huge
invasion force in hand-to-hand and street-by-street fighting.
The planned extensive British Empire in South America was never established as most of the countries on
the continent became independent in the early 19th Century. Many British people decided to settle in
Argentina and the country now has a large British community of over 500,000 people, including a Welsh-
speaking community in Patagonia at the continent's southern end.
WEST INDIES, BRITISH HONDURAS AND GUIANA
FALKLAND ISLANDS AND DEPENDENCIES
Largest Expansion of the Empire
The British Empire underwent several growth spurts . Its largest expansion was during the Victorian era
(1837 to 1901). During the first half of the nineteenth century, expansion of the Empire was mostly in
Asia with the creation of the Indian Empire by 1877 and the annexation of Burma in the 1880 s. Aden
was annexed in 1839 and an invasion of Afghanistan was launched during the same year. Britain also
established a presence in Malaya and annexed Hong Kong. The surrounding New Territories were added
to Hong Kong by a 99-year lease in 1898.
The end of the nineteenth century saw the Grab for Africa with the annexation of large stretches of the
African continent. In 1815, Britain had only toeholds in the Cape of Good Hope and in west Africa. In
1882, Britain occupied Egypt and the major African additions soon followed. Throughout the 1880 s and
1890 s, Britain s west African possessions were expanded and a great north-south corridor of British rule
was created up the east side of Africa ultimately connecting the Cape of Good Hope with Egypt under the
guidance of Cecil Rhodes and his Cape to Cairo plan. This ended with the annexation of the Boer
Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State on the conclusion of the Boer War in 1902. In 1910,
these were united with the Cape Colony and Natal to form a new Dominion known as the Union of South
Africa. Only German East Africa then stood in the way of the completion of this Cape to Cairo corridor.
In 1908, Britain laid claim to a large section of Antarctica, immediately south of the Falkland Islands.
Australia also claimed part of the Antarctic in 1933.
The final large expansion of the British Empire came after the First World War in 1919, when former
German colonies in Africa and the Pacific became British, thus completing the British Cape to Cairo
corridor in Africa, and the annexation of former Ottoman Turkish provinces in the Middle East of
Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq). After a rebellion against the British in 1919, Egypt gained
independence in 1922, but with British occupation of the Suez Canal Zone continuing.
The British Empire therefore reached its widest extent between the two world wars in the period 1918 to
1942. Japan occupied the British Far Eastern possessions after 1942. These were restored to British
control in 1945 and Italian territories in North Africa were administered by Britain also in 1945.
However, by this time, imperialism was no longer acceptable and Britain was severely economically
weakened, so by 1948, the Empire began its decline.
India was at the heart of the British Empire but it was initially controlled, not directly by the British
government, but through the East India Company. This huge company, chartered in 1600, set up a number
of factories, as their trading posts were called, and steadily increased its possessions and the territories
over which it held treaty rights until its power extended from Aden in Arabia to Penang in Malaya, both
vital ports of call for company vessels plying between Britain, India, and China. Robert Clive, the first
British Governor of Bengal, established the Company s great military power. The East India Company
was the most powerful private company in history, controlling India partly by direct rule and partly by a
system of alliances with Indian princes, maintained by the Company's powerful army. The company's
political power was ended by the Indian War Of Independence (referred to by the ruling British as the
Indian Mutiny ) in 1857. Although this revolt was put down, it resulted in the Crown taking over the
government of India in 1858; Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India on 1 Jan 1877. India then
became known as the Indian Empire and the vice-regal representative was called a Viceroy. The British
army fought two wars with Afghanistan (1839-41 and 1878-80) to protect India's northwest frontier and
invaded Tibet in 1904. A protectorate existed in Afghanistan from 1880 to 1921. After several years of
non-violent protest for home rule from Indian leaders, limited self government came in 1919 and semi-
Dominion status with a federal parliament was given to India in 1935. British influence in Nepal began in
1857 with the country having a very pro-British king. Nepal s independence was recognised by a Treaty
of Friendship with Britain in 1923. Burma was part of India until 1937. In that year it became a separate
When the Netherlands came under French occupation (1793-1815) the East India Company took the
opportunity to occupy parts of the East Indies, such as Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) annexed to the East India
Company in 1796. In 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an official with the British East India
Company, established Singapore as a trading post and settlement.
When the British government took over from the company it also acquired the Straits Settlements and by
1914 all Malaya was under British control. Britain gained Hong Kong as a result of the Opium Wars
(1839-42) and Kowloon was added to the colony after a second Opium War (1856-58). The surrounding
New Territories were added to Hong Kong in a 99-Year lease in 1898. In the same year, Weihaiwei, on
the northeastern coast of China, was annexed by Britain. It was returned to China in 1930.
Burma (now Myanmar) became a province of British India in 1886 after a series of Anglo-Burmese Wars
from 1824. In Borneo, Sarawak was ruled as a personal possession by James Brooke, a former soldier of
the East India Company, and the British North Borneo Company acquired Sabah in 1888. The sultanate
of Brunei, which had formerly possessed Sarawak and Sabah (British North Borneo), itself came under
British protection in the same year.
In Australia, claimed for the British by Captain James Cook, colonization began with the desire to find a
place for penal settlement after the loss of the original American colonies. The first shipload of British
convicts landed in Australia in 1788 on the site of the future city of Sydney. New South Wales was
opened to free settlers in 1819, and in 1853 transportation of convicts was abolished. Before the end of
the century five Australian colonies - New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria,
Queensland - and the island colony of Tasmania had each achieved self-government; an act of the
Imperial Parliament at Westminster created the federal Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing
Dominion, in 1901.
New Zealand, annexed in 1840, was at first a dependency of New South Wales. It became a separate
colony in 1853 and a Dominion in 1907. The Fiji Islands were ceded to the British Crown by their Great
Council of Chiefs in 1874. In 1906, a condominium between Britain and France was established for the
New Hebrides islands. The German territory of New Guinea was mandated by the League of Nations to
Australia in 1919, while the island of Nauru was mandated jointly to Britain, Australia and New Zealand,
also in 1919. German Samoa was mandated to New Zealand in 1919 also.
Captain George Vancouver established a UK-Hawaii friendship in 1793-4 and obtained a "cession" of the
Islands to the UK, but the British government apparently never took notice of it. From 1794 to 1816,
Hawaii flew the British Union Jack as its National Flag.
From 1816 to 1843, Hawaii flew an early version of its present flag, containing the Union Jack. British
troops occupied the Hawaiian Islands from 25 February to 31 July 1843. A Hawaiian "revolt" led to a
British withdrawal in July 1843. The "revolt" consisted of the total ignoring of the presence of the British
by the Hawaiians. No talking, no notice, nothing. Actually, the occupation was not sanctioned by London,
and February to July is how long it took word to go to London and back again. But the Hawaiians say
they defeated the British by ignoring them!
Hawaii was occupied by the United States in 1893 and became a state of the United States in 1959.
Today, it continues to use a flag containing the Union Jack to honour its original friendship agreement
with the UK.
The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa was occupied by two English captains in 1620, but initially
neither the government nor the East India Company was interested in developing this early settlement into
a colony. The Dutch occupied it in 1650, and Cape Town remained a port of call for their East India
Company until 1795 when, French revolutionary armies having occupied the Dutch Republic, the British
seized it to keep it from the French. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, the UK bought Cape Town from
the new kingdom of the Netherlands for the equivalent of $6 million.
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA AND
DOMINION OF NEW ZEALAND
Captain James Cook
British settlement began in 1824 on the coast of Natal, proclaimed a British colony in 1843. The need to
find new farmland and establish independence from British rule led a body of Boers (Dutch `farmers')
from the Cape to make the Great Trek northeast in 1836, to found Transvaal and Orange Free State.
Conflict between the British government, which claimed sovereignty over those areas (since the settlers
were legally British subjects), and the Boers culminated, after the discovery of gold in the Boer territories,
in the South African War of 1899-1902, which brought Transvaal and Orange Free State definitely under
British sovereignty. Given self-government in 1907, they were formed, with Cape Colony (self-governing
in 1872) and Natal (self-governing in 1893), into the Union of South Africa in 1910. German South-West
Africa was transferred to the Union of South Africa by League of Nations mandate in 1919 and the
territory was absorbed into the Union in 1948. Cecil Rhodes' British South Africa Company, chartered in
1889, extended British influence over Southern Rhodesia (a colony in 1923) and Northern Rhodesia (a
protectorate in 1924); with Nyasaland, taken under British protection in 1891, the Rhodesias were formed
into a federation (1953-63) with representative government. Uganda was made a British protectorate in
1894. Kenya, a protectorate, became a colony in 1920, coastal areas forming part of the sultan of
Zanzibar's Dominions remained a protectorate. The plan was to create a British state in Africa stretching
from the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the continent to Cairo in Egypt, known as the Cape to
Cairo route .
UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA
The British showed little interest in Africa outside the Cape until the scramble for territory of the 1880s,
although a few forts were kept in West Africa, where gold and ivory kept their importance after the slave
trade was ended by Britain in 1807. An early exception was the colony of Sierra Leone founded in 1788
with the cession of a strip of land to provide a home for liberated slaves; a protectorate was established
over the hinterland in 1896. British influence in Nigeria began through the activities of the National
Africa Company (the Royal Niger Company from 1886), which bought Lagos from an African chief in
1861 and steadily extended its hold over the Niger Valley until it surrendered its charter in 1899; in 1900
the two protectorates of North and South Nigeria were proclaimed. World War I ousted Germany from
the African continent, and in 1919, under League of Nations mandate, Cameroons and Togoland, in West
Africa, were divided between Britain and France. Britain became responsible for the northern Tripolitania
part of the Italian colony of Libya in North Africa from 1945 until 1951, while France got southern Libya.
The high ground of the area made it far more suitable for settlement by white colonists than the colonies
in the west. Once again, private companies under charter from the British government pioneered the way,
establishing their control over Kenya in 1888 and Uganda in 1890. Somaliland came under direct control
of the British government in 1884 and in 1890 Germany, which had already relinquished its interests in
Uganda, ceded Zanzibar to Britain in exchange for Heligoland, an island off the German coast. In 1898,
after a victorious war against the Mahdi of Sudan, a condominium between Britain and Egypt was
established over the territory, known from then on as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. German East Africa was
transferred to British administration by League of Nations mandate, and renamed as Tanganyika, in 1919,
thus completing the Cape to Cairo route. Britain occupied and administered Italian colonies of Italian
Somaliland and Eritrea from 1945 to 1952.
British Empire in the Middle East mostly lasted for a short time. Britain was interested in securing the
trade route to India, particularly after the Suez Canal was built. The British Government wanted to
achieve this by annexing territories along the route. It began with the British annexation of Aden in 1839,
which was later governed by the India Office. However, the main British interest over the Middle East
grew when the British government bought shares in the Suez Canal in 1856. Britain subsequently
occupied Egypt in 1882 and declared it a protectorate in 1914, in which British forces were led by
Viscount Edmund Allenby. Cyprus was also annexed. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1919,
assisted by Arab tribesmen led by British Colonel T.E. Lawrence, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq were
mandated by the League of Nations to Britain. At that time, many British statesmen believed in creating a
vast new British Dominion across the Middle East, however, this proved to be not possible. An uprising
against British control in Egypt in 1919 led to independence for the country in 1922. Egypt was declared
independent, but with Britain retaining responsibility for maintenance of communications, defence,
protection of European interests and the question of Sudan. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936
recognised the complete independence of Egypt and the termination of British military occupation.
However, it provided for British troops to continue to guard the Suez Canal Zone until the 1950 s. The
British High Commissioner in Egypt became the British Ambassador. Egypt had been officially part of
the British Empire for only eight years (1914-1922). A semi-Protectorate existed in Iran (Persia) from
1919 to 1921 with an offer of British military and financial assistance; abandoned after being rejected by
Iranians. The British mandate in Iraq was terminated in 1932 and the country became an independent
kingdom. Transjordan gained independence as Jordan in 1946 and the State of Israel was declared in a
partitioned Palestine in 1948.
In Antarctica, as more and more government officials began to realise the potential strategic, economic,
and scientific importance of the last continent, governments began to lay claim to vast tracts of land there,
basing their claims on the prior discoveries of their countrymen. The oldest continuously occupied station
is the weather station on Laurie Island in the South Orkneys, turned over to Argentina by W.S. Bruce in
1904. This history of occupancy forms a key element of the Argentinean claim to the Peninsula, but the
first formal claim over Antarctic territory was made by Britain in 1908 to a large part of the continent
south of the Falkland Islands. Captain Robert Scott explored Antarctica for Britain. In 1923 Britain
handed over part of their claim, the Ross Dependencies, to New Zealand. In 1924, France laid claim to
Terre Adlie. Australia claimed a large chunk of territory in 1933. In January 1939, Norway formalized its
claim to Dronning Maud Land (largely to protect its whaling interests and preempt the anticipated claims
Col. T.E. Lawrence
of the German Schwabenland Expedition). Finally, in 1940, Chile became the third country to claim
sovereignty over the Antarctic Peninsula (after Britain and Argentina). Although the United States
pursued no claims of its own, the flurry of international land grabbing may have encouraged the U.S.
Congress to establish the U.S. Antarctic Service in 1939. From that moment on, the U.S. government
assumed almost complete control of American Antarctic exploration. Other countries were soon to follow
suit. By the late 1940s Antarctic exploration had entered a new phase, and one not just due to increased
government involvement. For the first time in history, permanent bases were established. The British had
been the first when they erected their secret bases in the closing days of the Second World War. Once
their existence was known, however, the scramble to occupy the continent was on and other countries
established bases there as well. These bases remain active in Antarctica today.
Captain Robert Scott
British Antarctic Claims
COMPARATIVE TABLE OF EMPIRE STATISTICS
CIRCA 1920 S
GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND
313,067 47,307,601 1,003,098,889
British Tropical America
Trinidad and Tobago
4,684,000 Port of Spain
British North America
Dominion of Canada
4,460,000 St. John's
British Dominions in Africa
Union of South Africa
British Interests in the Near East
British Dominions in Oceania
Commonwealth of Australia
Territory of Papua
270,481 Port Moresby
Territory of New Guinea
Do+minion of New Zealand
British Dominions in Asia
Federated Malay States
15,745,000 Kuala Lumpur
Unfederated Malay States
British North Borneo
Links of Empire in the Atlantic
Tristan da Cunha
Links of Empire with the Far East, Australia and New Zealand
Aden and Perim
6,826,000 Port Louis
Zanzibar and Pemba
Links of Empire in the Pacific
New Hebrides (Anglo-French)
Gilbert and Ellice Islands
13,307,365 34,465,915 448,998,323 1,921,695,002 1,864,551,390
Note: Figures not available for missing information
Land Area Of Major Powers (1920's)
Populations Of Major Powers (1920's)
Imports Of Major Powers (1920's)
Exports Of Major Powers (1920's)
Imperial Federation Proposal
In 1884, the Imperial Federation League was established with the purpose of promoting a Federation of
the British Empire governed by an Imperial Parliament with representatives from Britain and the colonies.
Firm proposals were drawn up for imperial free trade and for a parliament in London with M.P.'s from the
United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. It was proposed
that M.P.'s from India and other colonies would be added later. The idea of a global inter-continental state
was far ahead of its time as international communications and travel were very slow at this time.
Joseph Chamerberlain, the Secretary for the Colonies in the early 1900's, was an avid supporter of the
idea. However, it was opposed by many Canadian and South African politicians. The movement
dissolved in 1911 due to disagreement and the last proposal for an imperial federation parliament was put
forward in 1919. However, the movement was successful in getting Imperial Conferences established,
which continue today as Commonwealth Conferences.
Empire Free Trade was established at Ottawa in 1932. After the First World War, the idea of drawing the
British colonies closer together in imperial federation faded away to be replaced by greater colonial self-
government and cooperation. The last Imperial Federation proposal put forward in 1919:
British Empire Federal Parliament: 300 Seats
England and Wales: 185 seats
Scotland: 25 seats
Ireland: 40 seats
Canada and Newfoundland: 20 seats
Australia: 15 seats
New Zealand: 5 seats
South Africa: 5 seats
West Indies: 5 seats
The Informal Empire
In addition to the British territories around the world, customarily shown in red or pink on maps of the
world, there was the British sphere of influence, often known as the Informal Empire . These were
countries which had either been occupied by British troops at one time or had been of strategic or of
economic interest to Great Britain. They were independent, but British military and/or economic
involvement was significant. Argentina, in South America, was occupied by the British from 1806 to
1807 in an aborted attempt by Britain to build a South American empire. After the country gained its
independence in 1816, many British people continued to settle there and the country was built up on
British investment and finance.
Egypt was occupied by British troops in 1882 to safeguard the Suez Canal. The country was declared as a
formal protectorate of Britain in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. However, after a nationalist
revolt in 1919, Egypt received nominal independence in 1922, but British troops remained in the Suez
Canal Zone until 1954. Afghanistan, on the North-West Frontier of the Indian Empire, was invaded by
British troops in 1839. A formal protectorate over the country was declared in 1880, but it was abandoned
in 1920 as it was difficult to defend. Nepal, a kingdom on the northern frontier of India, though never
annexed into the Indian Empire, was definitely in the British sphere of influence. The famous Ghurkas in
the British Army come from Nepal. In 1904, the Viceroy of India sent troops into Tibet, immediately
north of Nepal, to open up a trade route to China, but this invading force quickly withdrew after meeting
heavy resistance. British influence in Tibet did remain for some time.
After annexing Iraq, British troops entered Iran (Persia) at the end of the First World War and an informal
semi-protectorate was declared over the country in 1919. A more ambitious plan to create new British
Protectorates in the Caucasus region after the fall of the Russian Empire, in Georgia and Azerbaijan, was
not pursued. The semi-Protectorate in Iran was abandoned also as unworkable. The Anglo-Iranian Oil
Company opened up much business between Britain and Iran. The British sphere of influence began to
fade after the Second World War, but much British investment remains in countries all over the world.
The concept of self-government for some of the colonies was first formulated in Lord Durham's Report
on the Affairs of British North America in 1839 which recommended that responsible government (the
acceptance by governors of the advice of local ministers) should be granted to Upper Canada (Ontario)
and Lower Canada (Quebec). This pattern was subsequently applied to the other Canadian provinces and
to the Australian colonies which attained responsible government by 1859, except for Western Australia
(1890). New Zealand obtained responsible government in 1856 and the Cape colony in 1872, followed by
Natal in 1893. A further intermediate form of government, Dominion status, was devised in the late 19th
and early 20th century at a series of Colonial Conferences (renamed Imperial Conferences in 1907).
Canada became a Dominion in 1867, Australia in 1901, New Zealand in 1907, the Union of South Africa
by 1910 and the Irish Free State in 1922. These five self-governing countries were known as Dominions
within the British Empire. Their meetings with the British government were the basis for the idea of the
Commonwealth of Nations. Very limited self government was granted to India in 1919. This was updated
in 1935 with a new act which organised the British Indian Empire into a partially self-governing
federation, with the plan to achieve full Dominion Status for India in the near future.
Dominion status was very inexactly defined until the Statute of Westminster in 1931 established it as
complete self-government, as recommended in the Balfour Report of 1926. This act was adopted
immediately by Canada, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State. Australia did not adopt it
until 1942 and New Zealand did not adopt it until 1947. The Canadian government requested that the
British North America Act, acting as Canada s constitution, remain in the possession of the British
government since Canadian politicians could not agree on an amending formula. The Dominions even
gained the right to secede from the Empire, a right which Ireland soon exercised. The Union of South
Africa contented itself for now by giving itself its own national flag, but it too would ultimately secede
thirty years later. Canada, Australia and New Zealand remain under the Crown today.
On 11 December 1931, the United Kingdom and the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire:
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union Of South Africa, Irish Free State and Newfoundland formed the
British Commonwealth. This was the collective name for the now completely autonomous parts of the
British Empire held together by a common allegiance to the Crown. The United Kingdom would only act
on their behalf with their consent and they made their own declarations of war at the outbreak of the
Second World War in 1939. In 1935, a large measure of self-government was granted to India, with an
expectation that it would soon gain full Dominion Status within the British Commonwealth. In 1933,
Newfoundland reverted back to colonial status due to financial difficulties and joined Canada as its tenth
province in 1949. Economically, the Empire was united. A British Empire Conference in Ottawa, Canada
in 1932 established Empire preferential trade in which preference was given to goods being traded
between Empire countries and at lower tariffs than for other countries. Empire countries, except Canada,
also belonged to the Sterling Bloc, made up of countries which used British Pounds Sterling as their
currency or the base for their currency. These arrangements lasted for the next forty years.
A major challenge to the Empire came from Ireland, where it can be argued the British Empire began
when Henry II declared himself `Lord of Ireland' in 1171. After 630 years of English rule and 120 years
as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland since 1801, 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland
became the Irish Free State in 1922. The Free State had Dominion status but in contrast to the relatively
amicable and gradual devolvement of the four other existing Dominions, only after centuries of hatred
culminating in civil war. A new constitution adopted by the Free State in 1937 dropped the name Irish
Free State and declared Ireland (Eire) to be a `sovereign independent state'. The Governor General was
replaced by a President. The break was completed in 1949 when Eire became a republic outside the
Commonwealth, though remaining in a special relationship with the now United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland, and becoming a fellow European Union member.
It is often said that the British Empire peaked in the 1920s, following World War One (1914-18), in
which it gained most of the German territories in Africa, and Ottoman provinces in the Near East by
League of Nations mandates. The Dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa, Australia and New
Zealand), were granted full self-government by the statute of Westminster in 1931. However, the British
monarch remained (and still remains, except for South Africa), the monarch of these territories,
represented by British Governors General and their citizens remained British Subjects until at least 1947,
so the Dominions continued to be counted as parts of the British Empire. World War Two (1939-45)
showed that they were indeed parts of the Empire: in 1939 the Australian prime minister informed his
country that Britain had declared war on Germany and that "as a result Australia is also at war", and in
1940 millions of pounds of gold were shipped to Canada in preparation for a possible relocation of the
British royal family. By this reckoning, the Empire reached its greatest extent following that war, in 1945.
Most of the Italian territories in Africa (Libya, Eritrea and Somaliland) were occupied by Britain, as was
all of Northwest Germany and parts of Austria and Berlin.
Egypt and Iraq were independent (since 1922 and 1932 respectively) but were in alliance relationships
with Britain. The formal treaty between Britain and Egypt was not agreed up on until 1936. At that point,
the British High Commissioner in Egypt became the British Ambassador. These alliances with Egypt and
Iraq were ended after revolutions in those countries (in 1952 and in 1958 respectively) ousted their pro-
British monarchs and replaced them with nationalistic republics. These countries had been re-occupied by
the British during World War Two. Colonel Nasser declared Egypt s full independence on 18 June 1954
when the last British troops left that country. British occupation ended in Iraq on 26 October 1947, but
today, British and Australian troops are back in Iraq, since 2003, supporting the United States in an effort
to bring order and democracy to that country.
The major decline of the British Empire began almost immediately after the Second World War when
India was partitioned into two new Dominions of India and Pakistan in 1947. Ceylon became a Dominion
in 1948 and Burma broke away from the British Commonwealth to become an independent republic. In
1948, the United Nations terminated Britain s mandate in Palestine and partitioned it into a Jewish state
and Arab lands. The independent State of Israel was born in 1949. To this day, it has an uneasy
relationship with its Arab neighbours. At the time of independence of the two new Dominions of India
and Pakistan, the other Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa,
which had become autonomous within the British Empire in 1931, were declared in 1947 to be of equal
status with the United Kingdom within the British Commonwealth, free to establish their own citizenships
and appoint their own ambassadors. This led to a final redefinition of their relationship as the modern
Commonwealth of Nations of free and equal members replaced the British Empire in November 1949.
Until the late 1940's, all citizens of the British Empire were British Subjects with no distinctive Dominion
citizenships. Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, etc. were British Subjects only,
and travelled on British passports. However, after 1947, that began to change. The British Commonwealth
countries began to establish their own distinctive national citizenships beginning with Canada in 1947,
followed by South Africa in 1948 and Australia and New Zealand in 1949. Peoples of these countries
remained as British Subjects in addition to becoming citizens of their own countries. Common British
Subject status alongside national citizenship throughout the Commonwealth was phased out in the 1970's.
British Empire Games
British Empire Games began in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1930 with teams from Australia, Bermuda,
British Guiana, Canada, England, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Union of
South Africa and Wales. Since these Games were only for the British parts of the world, the United
Kingdom was represented by its four constituent countries on separate teams. However, they came
together as a single Great Britain team in the Olympics. In 1930, events included track and field, bowling,
boxing, rowing, swimming and wrestling. The Games were held every four years, except during the
Second World War, in 1934, 1938, 1950 and 1954. In 1958, the name of the British Empire Games was
changed to the British Commonwealth Games and changed again to simply the Commonwealth Games in
1966 to reflect the changing constitutional situation. These Games continue to be held today with teams
from every part of the Commonwealth and consisting of many more varied events. These Games are held
between each set of Olympic Games and are rotated around the Commonwealth in different locations.
Efforts in Wars
Empire troops from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and other colonies
served loyally in the Boer War (1899 1902), in the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World
1945). In the Boer War and in the First World War, the Dominions were automatically at
war when Britain went to war. However, after the passage of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the
Dominions could choose to serve or to remain out of Britain s wars. In the Second World War, Australia
and New Zealand declared war on the same day as Britain
September 3, 1939. A bitterly divided South
African parliament also declared war on this day. The Canadian parliament took one week to debate and
approve the declaration of war, which was issued for Canada on September 10, 1939. Ireland, which had
declared itself a de facto republic in 1937, remained neutral. India, not yet fully self-governing, was
automatically at war when Britain went to war, much to the anger of Indian nationalists who were
demanding independence. Many Indians fought loyally with the British and others helped the Japanese.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN 1946
Following the Norman conquest in 1066, England was dominated by Kings who were often more
concerned with their holdings in France. For fully three quarters of the time they were native French-
speakers. The Kings of England held Normandy in France. Aquitaine, also in France, was brought to them
by marriage. After the Hundred Years War with the French, the English lost all of their possessions in
France by 1453, except for Calais which was lost by 1558. By then England, was already building a trans-
Atlantic empire when it claimed Newfoundland in 1497.
King Edward I finally conquered Wales in 1282, and made it a principality to be held by the heir to the
English throne. In 1536, King Henry VIII of England removed the political institutions that had
stigmatized Wales as a conquered country, making it formally part of the Kingdom of England, but the
new united Kingdom was still generally known as England, and it was English law which prevailed.
In 1170, the Normans conquered Ireland and added an area on the east coast they called The Pale to the
English Crown. It also made it necessary for Ireland to be made a Kingdom in 1541, in personal union
with the Kingdom of England, because the lordship of Ireland had been a Papal grant. Henry VIII was
proclaimed King of Ireland as well as England and Wales. During the reign of Henry VIII's daughter
Elizabeth I (1558-1603), English rule over Ireland was made effective for the first time.
Scotland became an English dependency in 1290. It regained its independence under Robert the Bruce in
1328, although with a border adjusted in favour of England by Edward III in 1334.
On the death of the childless Elizabeth in 1603 the kingdoms of England and Ireland went to her nephew
James Stuart, King of Scotland. In this way the British Isles came under one monarch for the first time.
Although James considered himself king of Great Britain (and Ireland), the parliaments of England and
Scotland were less enthusiastic about union, and maintained the distinction between the two countries. In
1606, King James created the first Union Flag with the combination of the English cross of St. George
with the Scottish St. Andrew saltire.
The Stuart dynasty, Kings of Scotland and England from 1603, always considered themselves Kings of
Great Britain. It is thus reasonable to talk of the British Empire from 1603, and it is usual to think of this
as the trans-oceanic dependencies of an insular state. However, it is worth remembering that for almost
the whole time from 1689 to 1820 the monarchs of Britain also ruled considerable continental territories,
just as in the period from 1016 to 1453 when English kings ruled over parts of France such as Normandy
and Aquitaine. The trans-oceanic English and later British Empire, began in the first Elizabethan age
(1558-1603) in Newfoundland, which had been claimed for the English Crown in 1497 and settled in
Under financial strain, the Scottish parliament voted itself out of existence in 1707, joining in a union
with England, known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Oddly enough, the Stannaries parliament, elected by Cornishmen, continued to sit until 1752, and was
never actually abolished. When Anne died in 1714, the parliament of Great Britain found a new Protestant
king in George of Hanover, creating a new personal union with that north German principality, which
lasted until 1837, when Queen Victoria became monarch.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE BEFORE THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
BEGINNINGS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE (1607 – 1756)
In 1607, the first really successful English colony in North America, was established. The town was
named after James, and the colony after his predecessor, the Virgin Queen. The American colonies
continued to grow at the expense of other European powers (Jamaica taken from the Spanish in 1655,
New York from the Dutch in 1664). Scots had attempted to create a colony in the isthmus of Panama in
1698, known as Darien, but this failed due to disease and lack of funding. Gibraltar had been taken by the
English from Spain in 1704 and remains a British territory to the present.
Meanwhile the American colonies on the Atlantic coast continued to expand, and Hudson Bay was settled
by fur traders of the Hudson Bay Company. Small scale trading posts in India were established by the
East India Company throughout the Seventeenth Century. The great leap forward in Britain's colonial
enterprise occurred during the Seven-years war (1756-63) against France and its allies. This conflict was
between Britain and Prussia on one side, and France, Austria, Sweden and Russia on the other. The
superiority of the British navy led to French defeat in Canada and India, and the occupation of Spanish
Havana and Manila. Britain gained all of North America east of the Mississippi, but reserved the
unsettled regions for the natives. This restriction was one reason for resentment by the British settlers on
the Atlantic coast. In India, the East India Company, backed by British troops, annexed Bengal, one of the
most populous provinces of the tottering Mogul Empire.
Britain's control of eastern North America lasted less than 20 years. It was felt by the British Government
that the Seven Years War had benefited the American colonies by the removal of French power from
North America, therefore Americans should help to pay for the costs of maintaining the new expanded
empire. The British Government introduced a series of new taxes starting with a Stamp Act. This
infuriated Americans as they claimed that they were being taxed without political representation. THE BRITISH EMPIRE AFTER THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
administration insensitive to the rights and desires of the American colonists led to the revolution of 1776
and the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen American colonies as the United States of America.
By 1781, a French fleet and a Franco-American army was able to force the surrender of the main British
force in North America, and the independence of the United States was recognized in 1783.
Only Canada and Newfoundland remained British. The former acquired a majority English-speaking
population from the influx of loyalists from the United States, and gradually pushed its territories
westward. Partly to compensate for the loss of America, a penal colony was founded in Australia in 1788.
By the end of the Napoleonic wars (1797-1815) Britain had gained South Africa and Ceylon from the
Dutch, and Hanover had extended its territory in Germany. In India, the East India Company steadily
enlarged its territories and sphere of influence. 13,000 British troops failed, however, in an invasion to
annex the Spanish territories in Argentina and Uruguay in 1806-7.
An invasion of Canada by the United States from 1812 to 1814 was defeated, but the fear of another
invasion led Canadians to desire more autonomy and security. Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in
1837 against what they saw as corrupt and unrepresentative government led to the establishment of
responsible self-government for the Canadas in 1840 by Lord Durham.
Meanwhile, in 1801, Ireland joined the United Kingdom, to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Ireland, thus encompassing the whole of the British Isles (except for the Isle of Man and the Channel
Islands, which were, and still are, administered separately). The Irish St. Patrick Saltire was added to the
British Union Flag and it took on the design it still has today.
GROWTH OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE (1815 – 1920)
The British Empire expanded enormously during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), as a consequence
of the industrial revolution which put Britain first in the world economically. Following the 1857 Indian
Mutiny, Britain took control of the whole sub-continent. The last Mogul Emperor was dethroned, and
Queen Victoria became Empress of India in 1876. India was ruled in part by a British Viceroy and in part
by native rulers in princely states. Singapore was colonized in 1819, and Hong Kong in 1842. A 99-year
lease over Hong Kong’s New Territories was signed between Britain and China in 1898.
The Crimean War (1853–1856) was fought between Imperial Russia on one side and an alliance of
France, the United Kingdom, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Britain saw
Russian imperial expansion in southwest Asia as a threat to its links with India. Most of the conflict took
place on the Crimean Peninsula, with additional actions occurring in western Turkey, and the Baltic Sea
region. The war was won by the British and the French and Russia agreed not to establish military bases
in the area and to respect the independence of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Aden was annexed by the
British in 1837. British expansion in South and East Asia was mostly over by 1886, by which time the
focus of attention of the European powers had moved to Africa, with the Berlin Conference of 1884
effectively ‘carving up’ the continent, on paper at least, between rival powers.
In addition to four west African colonies and Somaliland in the northeast, the British, led by De Beers
diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, pursued a north to south ‘Cape to Cairo’ corridor across Africa which
envisaged a continuous British state in Africa from the Cape of Good Hope at the continent’s southern
end to Egypt at the north end. This was almost complete by the 1890’s except for German East Africa in
the middle. The Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in South Africa were
conquered by the British in 1902 and merged with the British colonies of the Cape Colony and Natal into
the Union of South Africa in 1910. By 1902, the European carve-up of Africa on the ground was
complete, and about a third of the continent's area and about half its population ended up under British
rule. Egypt remained nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, but was under British control from 1882 and
was formally annexed as a British Protectorate in 1914. German African colonies were taken by the
British after the First World War, thus completing the ‘Cape to Cairo’ corridor.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE AFTER THE NAPOLEONIC WARS
THE BRITISH EMPIRE BEFORE THE FIRST WORLD WAR
PARTITION OF AFRICA
Canada was extended to the Pacific coast in 1871, and all of Australia and New Zealand annexed by 1842
(although it would be generations before the interior of Australia was fully explored, let alone settled).
Rebellions in Canada in 1837 and in Australia in 1854 led to colonial self-government. Colonial
Conferences of colonial leaders began in London in 1887, becoming Imperial Conferences in 1911 and
eventually becoming Commonwealth Conferences after 1944.
Even though the British Empire in South America was very small consisting of only British Guiana
(annexed 1807) and the Falkland Islands (annexed 1833) at opposite ends of the continent, Argentina was
part of Britain’s ‘informal empire’ which was made up of countries which were not under British rule, but
in which Britain maintained a strong economic interest. This was to remain until the Second World War.
In 1908, Britain made large claims to part of Antarctica near the Falkland Islands, now known as the
British Antarctic Territory. These claims were expanded later on to include the Australian Antarctic
Territory and the Ross Dependency.
DOMINION STATUS (1867 – 1948)
All the colonies of British North America (Canada) attained limited self-governance between 1848 and
1855, after rebellions for responsible government in 1837, except the colony of Vancouver Island. Nova
Scotia was the first colony to achieve responsible government in January–February 1848, through the
efforts of Joseph Howe, and by the Province of Canada later that year. They were followed by Prince
Edward Island in 1851, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland in 1855 under Philip Francis Little.
Confederation of the British North American colonies of Canada (subsequently the provinces of Ontario
and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into "One Dominion under the Name of Canada", became
the first autonoumous federation in the British Empire in 1867 with its capital in Ottawa.
The Australian Constitutions Act 1850 established the machinery for the four then existing Australian
colonies (namely New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia) to establish
Parliaments and responsible government once certain conditions had been met; it also provided for the
separation of Victoria from New South Wales and its establishment as a separate colony (which occurred
in 1851) with similar capacity to attain self-government. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and
Tasmania, along with New Zealand, attained responsible government soon after in 1856; self-government
for Western Australia was delayed until 1891, mainly because of continuing financial dependence on
Britain. Queensland was separated from New South Wales and established as a separate colony in 1859.
The Australian colonies were federated into an autonomous dominion in a similar manner to Canada in
1901 with a federal government first located at Melbourne and moved in Canberra in 1927.
New Zealand became a dominion in 1907. South African colonies became self-governing later, with the
Cape Colony being the first in 1872; this was followed by Natal (1893), Transvaal (1906), and the Orange
River Colony (1907). The four South African colonies were federated into the autonomous dominion of
the Union of South Africa in 1910. Newfoundland (1917) and the Irish Free State (1921) also became
autonomous dominions. Dominion status for India became an increasingly pressing issue after the First
World War. The establishment of the Irish Free State reduced the United Kingdom to Great Britain and
Northern Ireland as the six northern counties of Ireland opted to remain in the United Kingdom, while the
other twenty-six separated as the Irish Free State.
It is often said that the British Empire peaked territorially in the 1920s, following World War One (1914-
1918), in which it gained most of the German territories in Africa, particularly in East Africa and South-
West Africa, and Ottoman provinces, including Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq), in the Middle East, by
mandates granted by the League of Nations.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE AFTER THE FIRST WORLD WAR
PARTITION OF THE MIDDLE EAST
THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH (1931 – 1949)
In the Balfour Declaration at the Imperial Conference in 1926, Britain and its Dominions agreed that they
were in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though
united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations. The Dominions (Canada, Newfoundland, Union of South Africa, Irish Free
State, Australia and New Zealand) were granted full autonomy by the statute of Westminster in 1931 and
referred to as the British Commonwealth. They even gained the right to secede from the Empire, a right
which the Irish Free State soon exercised and the Union of South Africa would follow thirty years later.
However, the British monarch remained (and still remains today, except for South Africa and Ireland) the
monarch of these territories, and it was not until 1947-9 that the dominions established separate
citizenships from the UK and were declared fully independent and equal to Britain.
World War Two (1939-45) showed that the dominions (Ireland excluded) were indeed still part of the
Empire: in 1939 the Australian prime minister informed his country that Britain had declared war on
Germany and that "as a result Australia is also at war", and in 1940 millions of pounds of gold were
shipped to Canada in preparation for a possible relocation of the British royal family.
By this reckoning, the Empire reached its greatest extent following that war, in 1945. Most of the Italian
territories in Africa were occupied by Britain, as was all of northwest Germany and parts of Austria and
Berlin. Huge areas of the Middle East were occupied (or reoccupied) during the war and beyond, to
secure oil supplies and seaways, or to remove regimes friendly to the Axis. The British occupied the
Italian territory of the Dodecanese Islands in the Mediterranean and wanted to make them into a self-
governing territory under the British Crown, but they were transferred to Greece in 1947.
After violence against the British, nominal independence had been given to Egypt in 1922 and then more
complete independence in 1936 and in Iraq in 1932. However, both of these countries were reoccupied by
the British during World War Two. Iraq was invaded by the United Kingdom in 1941, for fears that the
government of Rashid Ali might cut oil supplies to Western nations and because of his strong leanings to
Nazi Germany. A military occupation lasted there until 26 October 1947. India had been granted partial
autonomy in 1935, but the nationalist movement there wanted complete independence by then.
British Empire Games were established in Canada in 1930 and held every four years between the
Empire preferential trade was established by an agreement in Ottawa in 1932. This made complete free
trade and preference for Empire goods within the British Empire. This made the Empire completely self-
sufficient, but hindered trade with other countries. However, against this backdrop of increased
democracy and territorial expansion, it must be remembered that the powerhouse and centre of the
Empire, Britain, was falling behind other major world powers in industrial performance, and was
economically and psychologically exhausted by meeting the brunt of the costs of the First World War,
then brought almost to its knees by the destruction and cost of the second.
By 1945, the financial means and ideological impetus to keep the empire alive seemed to be missing to a
growing section of the British and colonial establishment.
In the 1930’s, Egypt had concluded a secession treaty with Britian granting it full independence and
nationalists in India were demanding complete independence and secession from the empire. In 1935,
Britain gave India its own parliament, but with Britain retaining the final say over it.
EMPIRE TO COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS (1947 – 1997)
After years of resentment at British domination, catholic southern Ireland gained independence as a
dominion in 1921. Northern Ireland, with a Protestant majority, remained part of the renamed United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Unlike the other dominions, the Irish Free State (Ireland)
declared its independence in 1937 and remained neutral in World War Two.
After World War Two, India was demanding complete independence and the election of an anti-
imperialist Labour Government in Britain that desired change, helped that cause. In 1947, the British
Government recognised all of the Dominions as completely free and equal nations with Britain. In August
of that year, the British Indian Empire was granted independence as the two new Dominions of India and
Pakistan within the British Commonwealth, retaining the British Monarch as head of state. In 1948,
Ceylon became independent as a Dominion. In that same year, Burma gained independence and broke
away from the British Commonwealth to become a sovereign republic.
In 1949, the government of India drew up a national constitution and stated that it would like to become a
completely independent republic with its own President as head of state. They also desired their own
foreign policy as a fully sovereign nation. However, they wished to remain within the Commonwealth.
This meant that the British Commonwealth had to change.
The issue of countries with constitutional structures not based on a shared Crown, but who wished to
remain members of the Commonwealth, was resolved in April 1949 at a Commonwealth prime ministers'
meeting in London. Under this London Declaration, India agreed that, when it became a republic, in
January 1950, it would accept the British Sovereign as a "symbol of the free association of its
independent member nations and, as such, Head of the Commonwealth" – a purely symbolic position.
However, India would have its own President as its head of state. The other Commonwealth countries in
turn recognised India's continuing membership of the association. (At Pakistan’s insistence, India was not
regarded as an exceptional case and other states would be accorded the same treatment as India.) The title
of British Commonwealth was changed to the Commonwealth of Nations to reflect these changes.
THE BRITISH EMPIRE AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The London Declaration is the beginning of the modern Commonwealth of Nations. Following India's
precedent, other new member nations became republics, or constitutional monarchies with their own
monarchs different from the British. Ireland, however, in 1949, chose to break away from the
Commonwealth when it became a republic. Decolonisation all over the world followed in the 1950’s and
1960’s and a majority of Commonwealth members today are republics with their own Presidents. The
Commonwealth continued to evolve over the years and the first non former British Empire country joined
in 1995 when Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, became a member. Cameroon also includes
mostly former French territory.
Members of the Commonwelth exchange High Commissioners to each other instead of Ambassadors,
recognising the special relationship that they have with each other.
Those members who continued to have the British monarch as head of state would now be called realms
instead of dominions. To recognize the new situation, Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953,
adopted separate titles for each of her realms to emphasize their independence, instead of using one title
for the whole Commonwealth as had been the case previously.
Withdrawal from the Middle East began with the creation of Israel in the British mandated territory of
Palestine in 1948. Newfoundland joined Canada as its tenth province in 1949. In Egypt, Colonel Nasser
assumed power as President in 1953 and declared the full independence of Egypt from the United
Kingdom on June 18, 1954, after the last British troops left the country, even though it had been officially
independent since 1922. Mandates in Africa and the Pacific had become UN Trust Territories in 1946,
though these continued to be administered as before until being granted independence with similar
colonies in the 1960s. Aborted federations in Central Africa and the West Indies were tried in the 1950’s.
The death knell for the empire really came with the Suez crisis of 1956, when Britain, beholden to the US
for billions of dollars of war debt, demonstrated its inability to act on the international stage without the
support of the newly dominant United States (a dominance built to a large extent on Britain’s former
wealth). At around the same time, Britain re-evaluated the value and cost of its colonial possessions, and,
under pressure from the United States and United Nations, began a process of serious decolonisation all
over the world. The rest of British Asia (apart from Hong Kong and Brunei) had gained independence
between 1957 and 1971, when the UK abandoned any pretence of being a sea power outside the Atlantic
and Mediterranean. British Africa had gained independence between 1956 and 1968, and most British
territories in the Caribbean between 1962 and 1983. Almost all of these countries remained as members
of the Commonwealth. South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 following growing criticism of its
policy of apartheid, but returned after the restoration of majority rule in 1994. Rhodesia declared itself
unilaterally independent in 1965 as a white-ruled state like South Africa, but was never recognized until it
became majority-ruled Zimbabwe in 1980.
Today, the only British Overseas Territories large enough to see on world maps are the Falkland Islands
and South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Against the trend, Britain fought a short but deadly war in 1982
with Argentina to keep these sparsely inhabited, but loyal, islands. Spain also claims Gibraltar, which is
also very loyal to Britain. The remaining British Overseas Territories are either too small to become
independent or wish to remain British. The only remaining colony after 1983 with a significant
population (5 million), Hong Kong, was peacefully returned to China in 1997 after a 99-year lease on its
New Territories had expired.
Although Canada, New Zealand and Australia, plus a number of other nations, still have the British
monarch as their head of state, they are no longer referred to as dominions, and had gradually abandoned
almost all their formal political ties with Britain by the 1980s, by gaining control over their constitutions.
Canada joined the United States and Mexico in forming the North American Free Trade Association
(NAFTA) in 1988. Australia and New Zealand are pursuing economic links with nearby Asian countries.
Decolonisation was hastened by Britain's turning its back on the Commonwealth in economic matters and
entering the European Economic Community (now European Union) in 1973. Empire preferential trade,
established in 1932, was abandoned after this as the UK and Commonwealth countries sought increased
trade with other markets in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
At the same time, the unity of the United Kingdom is itself in question. Since 1999, Scotland has had its
own parliament, for the first time in nearly 300 years, Wales and Northern Ireland have had their own
assemblies. Scottish nationalists, however, still push for complete independence. In 2007, Britain claimed
about 350 square miles (1000 sq km) of seabed off Antarctica, off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic
and off Rockall Island near Scotland for the minerals rights to these areas.
The British Empire was the largest empire in the history of mankind which covered one quarter of the
land territory of the world. The Union Jack flew on every continent. Despite its faults, and the
unfashionable nature of empires in today’s world, the British Empire was arguably the most enlightened
in history, often preserving local customs while spreading technology, human rights, the English
language, Common Law and Parliamentary Government around the world. Its successor, the
Commonwealth of Nations, made up of free and independent states, is a still-growing forum for English-
speaking states that emphasises good governance and respect for human rights. Recent economic trends
have made its member countries retreat into regional blocs for trade; but a stronger, more united
economic Commonwealth of the future can bring together the world’s markets and help guarantee the
survival of the freedoms and traditions which so many in the Commonwealth hold so dear.
THE COMMONWEALTH TODAY
Today, there are 53 independent members of the Commonwealth. 16 have Queen Elizabeth II as head of
state, including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and realms in the Caribbean and in the Pacific,
32 are republics and 5 have their own monarchies.
Queen Elizabeth II is sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but is also
sovereign of and represented by a Governor General in these countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia,
The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint
Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Queen
Elizabeth II is recognised by all members as Head of the Commonwealth. Some countries have left the
Commonwealth and returned to it. South Africa left in 1961 and returned in 1994 after the abolition of
apartheid in that country, Pakistan left in 1972 and returned in 1989 and Fiji’s membership lapsed after a
coup in 1987 but it returned in 1997. In 1995, Mozambique became the first non-former British Empire
country to join. Rwanda, a former Belgian territory, has applied to join also
After 1954, the British Empire Games became the Commonwealth Games and continue to be held all
over the Commonwealth every four years between the Olympics. A permanent Commonwealth
Secretariat was established in 1965 in London with a Secretary General. The Commonwealth has also
established educational and aid programmes. Commonwealth heads of government meet every two years
to discuss issues that affect the Commonwealth. These meetings began as Colonial and Imperial
Conferences that were always held in London. However, since 1973, they have been rotated around the
Commonwealth. These meetings are called CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings).
Commonwealth finance ministers and parliamentarians also have regular meetings to discuss issues that
affect them all.
The Commonwealth of Nations, usually known as the Commonwealth, is a voluntary association of
53 independent sovereign states, most of which are former British colonies, or dependencies of these
colonies (the exceptions being the United Kingdom itself and Mozambique).
No single government in the Commonwealth, British or otherwise, exercises power over the others, as in
a political union. Rather, the relationship is one of an international organisation through which
countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status,
and co-operate within a framework of common values and goals, as outlined in the Singapore
Declaration. These include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law,
individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace, and are carried out through
multilateral projects and meetings, as well as the quadrennial Commonwealth Games. The symbol of this
free association is Queen Elizabeth II, known for this purpose as Head of the Commonwealth. This
position, however, does not imbue her with any political or executive power over any Commonwealth
member states; the position is purely symbolic, and it is the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is the
chief executive of the organization. Each individual member can have its own head of state such as a
President or local monarch. Some choose to continue to have the Queen as their sovereign.
Elizabeth II is also the monarch, separately, of sixteen members of the Commonwealth, collectively
called the Commonwealth realms and these include the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Caribbean
and Pacific nations. As each realm is an independent kingdom, Elizabeth II, as monarch, holds a distinct
title for each, though, by a Prime Ministers' Conference in 1952, all include the style Head of the
Commonwealth at the end; for example: Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Australia
and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. Beyond the realms, the majority of
the members of the Commonwealth have their own, separate heads of state: thirty-two members are
republics with an elected President as head of state, and five members have distinct monarchs: the Sultan
of Brunei; the King of Lesotho; the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia; the King of Swaziland; and the
King of Tonga.
The three largest Commonwealth economies, as measured in purchasing power parity, are India ($2.9
trillion), Britain ($2.1 trillion), and Canada ($1.3 trillion).
THE COMMONWEALTH OF NATIONS TODAY
Objectives and activities
The Commonwealth's objectives were first outlined in the 1971 Singapore Declaration, which committed
the Commonwealth to the institution of world peace; promotion of representative democracy and
individual liberty; the pursuit of equality and opposition to racism; the fight against poverty,
ignorance, and disease; and free trade. To these were added opposition to discrimination on the basis
of gender by the Lusaka Declaration of 1979 (which mostly concerned racism), and environmental
sustainability by the Langkawi Declaration of 1989. These objectives were reinforced by the Harare
Declaration in 1991.
The Commonwealth's current highest-priority aims are on the promotion of democracy and
development, as outlined in the 2003 Aso Rock Declaration, which built on those in Singapore and
Harare and clarified their terms of reference, stating: "We are committed to democracy, good governance,
human rights, gender equality, and a more equitable sharing of the benefits of globalisation." The
Commonwealth lists its areas of work as: Democracy, Economics, Education, Gender, Governance,
Human Rights, Law, Small States, Sport, Sustainability, and Youth.
The Commonwealth has long been distinctive as an international forum where highly developed
economies (such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand) and many of
the world's poorer countries seek to reach agreement by consensus. This aim has sometimes been difficult
to achieve, as when disagreements over Rhodesia in the late 1960s and 1970s and over apartheid in South
Africa in the 1980s led to a cooling of relations between the United Kingdom and African members.
Through a separate voluntary fund, Commonwealth governments support the Commonwealth Youth
Programme, a division of the Secretariat with offices in Gulu (Uganda), Lusaka (Zambia), Chandigarh
(India), Georgetown (Guyana) and Honiara (Solomon Islands).
The organisation is celebrated each year on Commonwealth Day, the second Monday in March.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
The main decision-making forum of the organisation is the biennial Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting (CHOGM), where Commonwealth Heads of Government, including (amongst
others) Prime Ministers and Presidents, assemble for several days to discuss matters of mutual interest.
CHOGM is the successor to the Prime Ministers' Conferences and earlier Imperial Conferences and
Colonial Conferences dating back to 1887. There are also regular meetings of finance ministers, law
ministers, health ministers, etc. Members in Arrears, as Special Members before them, are not invited to
send representatives to either ministerial meetings or CHOGMs.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, established in 1965, is the main intergovernmental agency of the
Commonwealth, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. It
is responsible to member governments collectively. Based in London, the Secretariat organises
Commonwealth summits, meetings of ministers, consultative meetings and technical discussions; it
assists policy development and provides policy advice, and facilitates multilateral communication among
the member governments. It also provides technical assistance to help governments in the social and
economic development of their countries and in support of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political
The Secretariat is headed by the Commonwealth Secretary-General who is elected by Commonwealth
Heads of Government for no more than two four-year terms. The Secretary-General and two Deputy
Secretaries-General direct the divisions of the Secretariat. The present Secretary-General is Kamalesh
Sharma, from India, who took office on 1 April 2008, succeeding Don McKinnon of New Zealand (2000–
2008). The first Secretary-General was Arnold Smith of Canada (1965–75), followed by Sir Shridath
Ramphal of Guyana (1975–90).
Commonwealth Secretariat web site: www.thecommonwealth.org
A multi-sports championship called the Commonwealth Games is held every four years, in the same year
as the Winter Olympic Games. As well as the usual athletic disciplines, the games include sports popular
in the Commonwealth such as bowls and netball. For the first time in 2006, disabled athletes took part in
the Commonwealth Games
Commonwealth of Learning
The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is an intergovernmental organisation created by the Heads of
Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning/distance education knowledge,
resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and
Commonwealth Business Council
The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) was formed at the Edinburgh CHOGM in 1997. The aim
was to utilise the global network of the Commonwealth more effectively for the promotion of global trade
and investment for shared prosperity.
The CBC acts as a bridge for co-operation between business and government, concentrating efforts on
these specific areas:
Facilitating ICT for Development
Promoting corporate citizenship
Public Private Partnerships
The CBC has a dedicated team, CBC Technologies, based in London and focused on the international
technology and global services industry throughout the Commonwealth.
Commonwealth countries share many links outside government, with over a hundred Commonwealth-
wide non-governmental organisations, notably for sport, culture, education and charity. The Association
of Commonwealth Universities is an important vehicle for academic links, particularly through
scholarships, principally the Commonwealth Scholarship, for students to study in universities in other
Commonwealth countries. There are also many non-official associations that bring together individuals
who work within the spheres of law and government, such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association
and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation, resourced by and reporting to
Commonwealth governments, and guided by Commonwealth values and priorities. Its mandate is to
strengthen civil society in the achievement of Commonwealth priorities: democracy and good
governance, respect for human rights and gender equality, poverty eradication and sustainable, people-
centred development, and to promote arts and culture.
The Commonwealth Foundation was established by the Heads of Government in 1965. Membership of
the Foundation is open to all members of the Commonwealth and (as of June 2007) stands at 46
governments out of the 53 member countries. Associate Membership, which is open to associated states
or overseas territories of member governments, has been granted to Gibraltar. 2005 saw celebrations for
the Foundation's 40th Anniversary. The Foundation is headquartered in Marlborough House, Pall Mall,
London, and has no other offices. Regular liaison and cooperation between the Secretariat and the
Foundation is in place.
The Foundation continues to serve the broad purposes for which it was established as written in the
Memorandum of Understanding:
The purposes and areas of interest of the Foundation will be the administration of funds for increasing
interchanges between Commonwealth organisations of the skilled or learned professions or skilled
auxiliary occupations in order to maintain and improve standards of knowledge, attainment and conduct;
and between non-governmental organisations of a voluntary rather than a strictly professional character
throughout the Commonwealth. The Foundation's areas of interest will also extend to include culture,
information and the media, rural development, social welfare and the handicapped, and the role of
The criteria for membership of the Commonwealth of Nations have developed over time from a series of
separate documents. The 1949 London Declaration ended the required allegiance to the British Crown in
the old British Commonwealth, allowing republican and indigenous monarchic members on the condition
that they recognised the British monarch as the 'Head of the Commonwealth'. In the wake of the wave of
decolonisation in the 1960s, these constitutional principles were augmented by political, economic, and
social principles. The first of these was set out in 1961, when it was decided that respect for racial
equality would be a requisite of membership, leading directly to the withdrawal of South Africa's re-
application (which they were required to make under the formula of the London Declaration upon
becoming a republic). The fourteen points of the 1971 Singapore Declaration dedicated all members to
the principles of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade.
These criteria were unenforceable for two decades, until, in 1991, the Harare Declaration was issued,
dedicating the leaders to applying the Singapore principles to the completion of decolonisation, the end of
the Cold War, and the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The mechanisms by which these principles
would be applied were created, and the manner clarified, by the 1995 Millbrook Commonwealth Action
Programme, which created the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which has the power
to rule on whether members meet the requirements for membership under the Harare Declaration. Also in
1995, an Inter-Governmental Group was created to finalise and codify the full requirements for
membership. Upon reporting in 1997, as adopted under the Edinburgh Declaration, the Inter-
Governmental Group ruled that any future members would have to have a direct constitutional link with
an existing member.
In addition to this new rule, the former rules were consolidated into a single document. These
requirements, which remain the same today. Current membership requirements are:
accept and comply with the Harare principles (supporting decolonisation).
be fully sovereign states.
recognise the monarch of the Commonwealth realms as the Head of the Commonwealth.
accept the English language as the means of Commonwealth communication.
respect the wishes of the general population vis-à-vis Commonwealth membership.
These requirements are undergoing review, and a report on potential amendment was presented to the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2007. New members will not be admitted at the 2007
CHOGM, with 2009 set as the earliest date of entry. A new criteria that has been added is that applicants
must have had some constitutional link with an existing member at some time in their history.
Membership criteria ia constantly under review. It is also being proposed that the position of the Head of
the Commonwealth may no longer automatically be the British Monarch, but may move to a rotating
headship. Members that still have the Queen as head of state (e.g Canada and Australia) do so by their
own choice and can change that at any time.
Rwanda (since 2003), Sudan, Algeria, Madagascar and Yemen have applied to join the Commonwealth,
and there was some interest expressed by Israel (being formerly administered by the United Kingdom)
and the Palestinian National Authority.
Other eligible applicants could come from any of the remaining inhabited British overseas territories,
Crown dependencies, Australian external territories and Associated States of New Zealand if any become
fully independent. Many such jurisdictions are already directly represented within the Commonwealth,
particularly through the Commonwealth Family.
A delegation led by the current President of Somaliland, Dahir Riyale Kahin, was invited to the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda in 2007. Presently, Somaliland's independence
is not internationally recognised, but its history as a British protectorate would mean that it would be able
to apply for re-entry into the Commonwealth, should it ever achieve international recognition.
As stated above, new members must 'as a general rule' have a direct constitutional link to an existing
member. In most cases, the existing member is the United Kingdom, but some have links to other
countries, either exclusively or more directly (e.g. Samoa to New Zealand, Papua New Guinea to
Australia, and Namibia to South Africa). There is only one member of the present Commonwealth that
has never had any constitutional link to the British Empire or a Commonwealth member; Mozambique, a
former Portuguese colony, was admitted in 1995 on the back of the triumphal re-admission of South
Africa and Mozambique's first democratic elections, held in 1994. Mozambique's entry was controversial,
leading to the Edinburgh Declaration and the current membership guidelines. Under current criteria, the
United States of America would qualify for membership if it or territoties of it were to apply.
France secretly considered membership in the 1950s, under the leadership of Prime Minister Guy Mollet.
In the context of nationalisation of the Suez Canal, colonial unrest, and increasing tensions between
British-backed Jordan and French-backed Israel, Mollet saw a union between Britain and France as a
possible solution. A British Government document of the time reported "That the French would welcome
a common citizenship arrangement on the Irish basis". The request was turned down by the British prime
minister Anthony Eden, along with a request for Commonwealth membership, and a year later France
signed the Treaty of Rome with West Germany and the other founding nations of the Common Market,
later to become the EU. Norway has also considered joining the Commonwealth.
In 2009, discussion began on the future of the Commonwealth and how it can increase its relevance in the
world. The Commonwealth will continue to change and evolve in the future. Membership criteria will
continue to be revised. The next British Monarch does not automatically become Head of the
Commonwealth. It has been suggested that a rotating headship from member countries could be
introduced. Increasing Commonwealth cooperation and possibly free trade have also been discussed.
Lord Howell of Guildford has proposed a Commonwealth Mark Two Plan. He was Shadow Deputy
Leader of the Lords, a former Minister in the governments of Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher, from
1987-1997, and he was chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
Today the Commonwealth contains seven of the most dynamic economies in the world - India,
Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada and the United Kingdom. The hi-tech wave is
coming from Asia, and from India in particular, which is scheduled by 2025 to have a national product
larger than the whole of Western Europe - the jewel indeed in the Commonwealth network of the future.
Lord Howell’s plan is for the Commonwealth to develop its own foreign policy. It could stretch out and
work with other like-minded democracies who, along with many existing members, want to be pro-
American but not subservient, and have their own perspective on key world issues, not an American-
imposed one. The Commonwealth also allows for small states to be able to speak with a larger voice.
Japan is one example of a new Commonwealth partner. But so, too, are countries like Poland, Turkey,
Norway, the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Italy, Thailand and even some of the
democratising Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Kuwait, Quatar and Oman.
Put this group together with the existing membership and one would have a kind of Commonwealth Mark
Two, a rallying point for the planet's "good guys" and a coalition of real might (it would contain more
than a third of the world's GNP), size, experience and influence. It would also be a vastly greater
source of soft power and influence for Britain - the origin of the whole undertaking - than anything on
offer from the European Union, or indeed from the battered United Nations. Even on issues like handling
Iran - a matter for the Asian powers and Russia as much as it is for the West (perhaps even more so), a
strong and wise voice from this greater Commonwealth would get a better reception than threats of force
from Washington, the UN, or the ignored diplomacy of the EU.
If the Commonwealth today were an economic bloc, it would be equal in size to the United States; it
would have thirteen of the world’s fastest growing economies; it would possess most of the world’s
leading ‘knowledge economies’ outside of the US; it would have one third of the world’s population; and
would represent forty percent of the membership of the World Trade Organisation. If an agreement were
achieved and it could bring per capita incomes up to a level comparable with the developed world, the
Commonwealth would have an economy valued at over US$45 trillion – the equivalent of adding the
combined GDP’s of the European Union with that of NAFTA – then doubling it. For small and
developing nations of the Commonwealth, such an initiative is a positive reaction to their calls for “trade,
not aid” and a genuine response to such programmes as NEPAD and individual national targets for UN
Millennium development goals. Already, Australia has negotiated, or is negotiating, FTA’s with New
Zealand, Singapore, and Malaysia. New Zealand is doing likewise. Canada, at present, is pursuing similar
arrangements with Singapore and the members of CARICOM.