Theresa May to use Commonwealth meeting months before Brexit to push closer trade ties

The Government will try to use an upcoming meeting of Commonwealth leaders to build closer links with Britain’s former imperial territories ahead of Brexit, the Government has announced.

The Commonwealth summit is held every two years in a different Commonwealth nation, with the UK the planned host for the 2018 summit. The meeting is set to take place just months before Britain officially leaves the EU in March 2019.

Though the venue of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was decided and publicised well before the EU referendum, ministers now believe they can use the summit to “reenergise and revitalise” the grouping – and potentially use it to build trade relations outside Europe.

Theresa May plans to use her position as the official chair-in-office of the Commonwealth to broker influence for the UK. The rotating chairmanship – which resembles the EU Council presidency – is a flexible position that allows its incumbent to set the agenda within the international organisation.

As the host of the 2018 summit, Ms May would be chair during the crucial period during and after Brexit. Britain decided to host the 2018 summit at the last minute after Vanuatu dropped out of hosting a planned meeting in 2017 due to damage done by Cyclone Pam to the island’s infrastructure.

Speaking on Commonwealth Day, which is 13 March, the Prime Minister said: “As we prepare to host the Commonwealth Summit in London next April, we are reminded today of the unique and proud global relationships that we have forged with the diverse and vibrant alliance of Commonwealth nations.

“The UK has a longstanding and firm commitment to the Commonwealth and to the values it upholds, of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

“And in hosting the Commonwealth Summit next year, the UK is committed to working with all members not only to reaffirm these shared values, but also to reenergise and revitalise the Commonwealth to cement its relevance to this and future generations.

“As we look to create a truly Global Britain, the deep partnerships that we share through a 21st Century Commonwealth can help us strengthen the prosperity and security of our own citizens, and those of our many friends and allies across the world.”

The Prime Minister is expected to meet the current chair of the Commonwealth, Prime Minister Muscat of Malta. Malta is also a member of the EU and will have to approve the final Brexit deal. 

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