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UK 'committed to rebuilding Commonwealth relationship'

RENEWED HOPE: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (left) during bilateral talks with the president of Guyana, David Granger, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London

FOREIGN SECRETARY Boris Johnson has told The Voice about the Government’s plans to strengthen and rebuild its relationship with the Commonwealth.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Johnson admitted that after Britain joined the European Community in 1973 it caused the country to neglect many of its former colonies as important political and economic partners, describing this as a “historic mistake”.

As the organisation’s heads of state gathered for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) this week, Johnson told The Voice: “If you look back to 1973 when we joined [the EU], we really made a historic mistake because we turned our backs on the Commonwealth, we really did.”

As the UK looks to rebuild its relationship with Commonwealth countries post-Brexit, Mr Johnson said that the UK was looking forward to a renewed relationship and that African and Caribbean countries played an especially important role in these efforts.

He said: “If you look at the UK’s trade the UK now does – I think – £2 billion worth of trade with the Caribbean area and £20 billion with sub-Saharan Africa – that’s a lot. We’re doing well and we see massive opportunities. We want to have a big free trade agreement with Nigeria, with all these countries. We’re very excited by it.”

Asked whether the Government would be conducting trade negotiations with a forum like Caricom or whether trade discussions would take place with individual states, he said: “Well, that’s to be worked out, but obviously we’ll be looking at all the forums where it’s appropriate to do negotiations. We have overseas territories in the Caribbean and we have different relationships in different Caribbean islands. We’ll be thinking exactly how to get the best free trade partnerships.”

NEEDS

Mr Johnson also acknowledged that the needs of many small island nations in the Caribbean are sometimes different from the larger members of the Commonwealth. He said: “One of the things we’re keen to ensure is that the diversity of their economies is enhanced and that we can find ways of developing every aspect of our partnerships, so for instance, it’s not just a question of agricultural products, but obviously financial services are very important for a lot of our friends in that part of the world.”

Following the devastation that last year’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked on parts of the region, especially Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, Mr Johnson said the UK government was taking the is- sue of how climate change af- fects the region very seriously.

He said: “I went myself to see the devastation that Hurricane Irma caused in the British Virgin Islands, in Anguilla and it was quite horrendous. We have to reconcile ourselves to the possibility that there could be further storms of that kind this year. I think the governments of those islands they’ve done a great job of building back.

STRONGER

“We need to build back stronger and smarter to make those countries are more resistant to hurricanes and I’m proud of the role the UK was able to play in helping.
Mr Johnson continued: “I think we’ve got some good assistance there, but we need to keep going and we need to prepare for more storms.

“In practical terms, I’m very pleased that there is good support for the Paris agreement, which is important for the long term. But for tackling the immediate problems caused by these titanic storms we need to be arrange all sorts of intervention, and that’s certainly what we’ll be doing.”

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