House of Commons Library

Future of the Commonwealth

Published Friday, March 16, 2018

A Westminster Hall debate on the 'Future of the Commonwealth' is scheduled for Wednesday 21 March 2018 from 2:30-4:00pm. The Member initiating the debate is Richard Graham MP.

Jump to full report >>


The Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) will take place in London on 16-20 April 2018. According to the Commonwealth Secretariat:

The summit’s theme is: ‘Towards a common future’ and is focused on building on the strengths of the Commonwealth to ensure this unique organisation is responsive to global challenges and delivers a more prosperous, secure, sustainable and fair future for all its citizens, particularly its young people.

There will be four fora during the CHOGM week: the Women's Forum and one each for youth, civil society and business.


As argument about the UK’s trade future rage on, the Commonwealth has increasingly come into focus. Brexit supporters often argue that the UK could strike free trade deals with the 52 other members of the Commonwealth, which together account for over two billion people.

Research from 2010 suggests that Commonwealth countries trade more with each other than with third countries and the Malta Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) conference endorsed the idea of pursuing Commonwealth free trade agreements, something that the UK would be able to participate in after leaving the EU. The Commonwealth talks of a ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ :

with its shared values, regulatory systems and language - has the potential to increase intra-Commonwealth trade by 20% and can reduce the cost of doing business between member countries by up to 19%.

Critics of Brexit tend to stress the importance of EU trade relative to Commonwealth trade; in 2015, some 44% of total UK exports of goods and services went to the EU, while 9.5% went to the Commonwealth. Secondly, many Commonwealth member states already have preferential access to UK and other EU markets via the Cotonou Agreement, advantages they may lose after UK withdrawal.

Next head of the Commonwealth

At present the Queen is Head of the Commonwealth. There is no automatic mechanism to appoint a successor, so discreet discussions are taking place about what happens when the present Monarch dies. Although Prince Charles will become head of state in 15 of the 53 member states on the death of his mother is thought to be the most likely candidate for the position, it is not a foregone conclusion; some delegates would like to elect a new head. A summit for Commonwealth officials was held in London in February 2018 and its findings will feature in the Heads of Government meeting in April. Heads of Government could:

  • decide that the British Head of State is automatically the Head of the Commonwealth
  • install Prince Charles as a one-off decision
  • or set up a new mechanism for selection immediately.


Commons Debate packs CDP-2018-0074

Authors: Nigel Walker; Ben Smith

Topics: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, International organisations, Overseas territories

Share this page

Stay up to date

House of Commons Library

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff.