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Why the Commonwealth really matters

CELEBRATION: Today (March 11) marks Commonwealth Day

TODAY (MARCH 11), I joined Her Majesty the Queen and her family, the Prime Minister, a large proportion of the London diplomatic corps, and 700 schoolchildren at Westminster Abbey for the annual Commonwealth Day service.

It is one of my favourite days of the year. Let me tell you why.

As a keen cricket fan, I am looking forward with great anticipation to this summer’s World Cup here in the UK, and in which all but one of the competitors (Afghanistan – who have come on a remarkable sporting journey) are Commonwealth countries.

ATTRACTION

For me, part of the attraction of the game is its mix of tradition and modernity, its diversity, and its spirit of fair play.
During my working week, I see these qualities every day as Minister for the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth values – the rule of law, democracy and human rights - bind together 2.4 billion people, (of whom sixty percent are under the age of 30) of our 53 nations, spread across six continents.

Aside from values, we also share a common language, common laws, common cultures and history, but most importantly we have a shared future.

This Commonwealth Day, I want to show how Britain’s part in this rich tapestry of nations, of megacities and microstates, islands and subcontinents, is a huge strength for Global Britain, and for the wider world.

I am a child of the Commonwealth. Born of Indian parents who migrated firstly to Pakistan and then to Scotland in the early 1950s, I married an Australian of Pakistani origin (who needs no reminding of England’s Commonwealth netball success last year).

Ours is one of millions of similar stories, including of course across our many incredible diaspora communities in the UK. What we have in common far exceeds our differences.

CONNECTIONS

Our connections mean that we can work together on tackling some of the major challenges of our time; reducing poverty, cleaning up our oceans, boosting trade and improving cyber security. Why?

Because we believe in the strength of those connections. Indeed, in support of these common objectives, the UK committed £500 million at last year’s Commonwealth Summit.

These include pledges that chime with the themes of International Women’s Day, which we celebrated on Friday, including supporting access to at least 12 years of quality education for girls across the Commonwealth.


RELEVANCE: Lord Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth

This commitment will boost economic growth, curb infant mortality, improve child nutrition and address population pressures in one fell swoop.
Britain’s leadership has ensured that all Commonwealth countries have signed up to ensuring their most vulnerable girls get the chance to learn.

Britain is also supporting entrepreneurship across the Commonwealth. Through the ‘SheTrades’ initiative over 2,300 women-owned businesses are receiving support to take their businesses global.

Since hosting last year’s Commonwealth Summit we have supported civil society organisations in addressing discriminatory laws, some of which are a shameful legacy of our country’s own making, which failed to protect citizens equally. This work is still in its infancy, but we have had approaches from various Commonwealth countries wanting to take up our offer of support to rectify historic wrongs.

EXPERTISE

Similarly, through the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration, the world’s largest and most geographically diverse inter-governmental commitment on cybersecurity, we have been using our expertise as one of the world’s leading cyber powers to help Commonwealth countries strengthen their cyber security and build resilience against threats.

The Commonwealth’s breadth, scale and energy, and most importantly its citizens, make it well placed to do transformative work – it is quite a unique network. As Minister for the Commonwealth I am focused on how our natural affinity and shared values can help us to work together for the benefit for all.

Returning to the cricket field, let us compete, let us build team working, let us uphold and abide by the best traditions of fair play.

But, unlike the cricket field, if we work collectively across all countries, there are no boundaries to what the Commonwealth can achieve.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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