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Over recent weeks and months, all the talk has been about the G7, NATO, and the role that the United Kingdom can — and should — play in these enormously significant international institutions. Now that we have left the European Union, the UK Government is rightly expending significant energy on looking at alternative international mechanisms through which to exercise our extensive soft power and influence.

However, Global Britain must be much more than these alliances of developed, Western nations. Global Britain must be about ensuring that the UK doesn’t simply play second fiddle, and instead plays a role in the international arena that truly matches our history, ambitions, and values.

To do this, the UK needs to take advantage of the enormous opportunities that our role at the centre of the Commonwealth affords us. The Commonwealth is undoubtedly one of the greatest products of British history, and acts as an undeniable force for good in international affairs. Our participation and leadership of the institution can allow the UK to exercise truly global leadership in advancing our values, security, and economic interests.

The Commonwealth brings together people from a dazzling array of backgrounds, who nevertheless share a common identity. It began with intrepid Brits setting sail, and has now been transformed into a voluntary association of 54 independent countries, with Britain at its centre. These include some of the largest and most populous — such as India, with 1.6 billion people — and some of the smallest — such as Nauru, with a population of 12,000. All 54 countries signup to 16 core principles, which include human rights, freedom of expression, and the rule of law.

Economically, the Commonwealth is dynamic. The combined GDP of members tops $10 trillion, or 14% of total global GDP. Half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in the Commonwealth, including Mumbai, Nairobi, and Kuala Lumpur.

The Commonwealth has observed over 160 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980, providing invaluable support for fledgling democracies

Although the Commonwealth has been criticised for being toothless — an example being in 2013, when a summit was held in Sri Lanka despite serious human rights concerns — its record is more positive than critics suggest. On democracy promotion, the Commonwealth has observed over 160 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980, providing invaluable support for fledgling democracies. On trade promotion, it costs member states on average 21% less to trade with each other than with non-member states. On good governance, Commonwealth nations make up 7 of the top 10 spots on the Ibrahim Index, which ranks African nations using metrics such as human development, economic opportunity, and commitment to the rule of law.

The Commonwealth has demonstrated it can and will take action against members when there are clear violations of Commonwealth norms. For example, Nigeria was suspended in the late 1990s, Pakistan was suspended in 1999, and Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002.

Yet if the argument is that the Commonwealth is not sufficiently effective, this is surely also an argument for greater UK involvement, both to ensure that our values and interests are properly advanced, and to ensure that the Commonwealth can be the force for good that it undoubtedly can be. As the home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and as one of the world’s most prominent and forceful proponents of liberal democratic values, the Commonwealth’s effectiveness requires our active involvement.

Unfortunately, the UK’s current approach does leave a bit to be desired. Take the recently published Integrated Review. While the G7 is mentioned on 20 occasions, and NATO a whopping 45, the Commonwealth only gets 12 mentions, excluding when the document refers to the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office. The document does describe the Commonwealth as “an important institution in supporting an open and resilient international order” but puts forward nothing in the way of a policy approach or strategy towards this vital international institution.

This is regrettable. In 2012, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on which I sit criticised the UK Government for not having a “clear and coordinated strategy for its relations with the Commonwealth.” We have not come far enough since then in treating this international institution with the respect it deserves.

The UK can, and should, revive its Commonwealth approach by promoting its expansion — bringing countries such as Ireland into its orbit, for example. The UK should also work to promote free trade between member states. To reflect this greater emphasis, the UK should fly the Commonwealth flag outside all British High Commissions.

Finally, we must also learn to cherish and take pride in British history once again. Our national conversation about the British Empire is parochial and myopic. The success of the Commonwealth, the enduring influence of British culture and in particular Her Majesty The Queen, are all indicative of a far more nuanced reality in which the British Empire helped to connect the world and spread British values. The Commonwealth is a force for good because Britain was, is, and will continue to be a force for good.

Andrew Rosindell is currently MP for Romford. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Target secured? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Sergeant Donald Todd]