STUDENT SHOUT: Commonwealth is not a cure-all for Brexit’s ills

Ellie thinks it's crazy to rely on trading with the Commonwealth to plug the EU trading gap
Ellie thinks it's crazy to rely on trading with the Commonwealth to plug the EU trading gap
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Each week a local student gives their opinion on what’s going on in the world. This week it’s the turn of Ellie Williams-Brown, a sixth form student at Portsmouth Grammar School.

The 53 countries of the Commonwealth, one third of the world’s population, were touted as the saviour for a post-Europe Britain, offering a chance for engagement with non-EU growing economies.

But, this isn’t accurate – with trade with the Commonwealth hardly offering a viable alternative to the European Union.

In 2015, the ‘Commonwealth effect’ – where trade between Commonwealth partners is perceived as cheaper and easier – was supposedly proved.

The Commonwealth Secretariat claimed ‘when bilateral partners are both Commonwealth members, they trade on average 20 per cent more’ and, compared with other country pairs, ‘bilateral trade costs for Commonwealth partners are, on average, 19 per cent lower’.

However, with immense variation of trade levels between member states, it is hard to see what can be learnt from an average figure for Commonwealth advantage.

The figures are small. Just nine per cent of UK exports went to the Commonwealth in 2015, while the EU received 44 per cent.

Brexit is unlikely to increase trade with the Commonwealth, and with the new EU deals Britain will be struggling with, it is more likely trade will decrease.

EU agreements allowed developing Commonwealth countries advantageous access to Britain’s market, so it is not surprising Commonwealth states, and its Secretary General Patricia Scotland, wanted Britain to remain in the EU.

As Professor Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said: ‘If the Commonwealth is the future, then we’re in even more trouble than I thought.’

The Commonwealth helped end South Africa’s apartheid and it offers a platform for its 31 small states, whose populations do not exceed 1.5 million.

But it’s not the solution to all of Brexit’s burdens.