A family of nations that builds on the best of the past

Morning View
Morning View

The disintegration of the British Empire was so remarkably rapid that an imperialist might even say it was a humiliating affair.

From having within its borders almost a quarter of the population of the planet in the 1920s, the empire saw one country after another declare independence after the end of the Second World War.

The handover of Hong Kong to China was arguably the formal end of the empire, but it had ceased to be a meaningful power for decades prior to that 1997 ceremony.

But while the British Empire now seems far in the past, its ongoing influence is far-reaching and apparent today in countries including that major emerging mega-power, India.

The British legal and parliamentary models, and the English language, are at the heart of most of those ex-colonies.

While there are some continuing resentments over the racism of empire, including growing calls for reparations in some Caribbean countries, there is also deep goodwill towards the UK among the one-time colonies.

The Commonwealth, comprising 53 member states, is the prime manifestation of that goodwill and shared culture.

Membership does not involve any legal commitment, but even so the Commonwealth family of nations can be a “powerful influence of good for the future”, as the Queen has just said.

There is, though, a notable absentee from that family. The Republic of Ireland, the country that is closest geographically and — arguably — closest culturally to the UK is the country that has been least interested in the shared heritage.

But that Republic has been changing fast, as the outpouring of warmth towards the Queen when she visited there in 2011 demonstrated.

If a new generation in Dublin thinks afresh about membership of the Commonwealth, they will be warmly welcomed.