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Council for Education in the Commonwealth’s Annual Gladwyn Lecture 2015

10th December 2015 in the House of Lords

The Commonwealth and the EU

By Sir Stephen Wall GCMG LVO

Gladwyn LogoDean Acheson famously said decades ago that Britain had lost an Empire but had not yet found a role.

The story of Britain and the Commonwealth and of Britain and the EU is a good illustration of that. The publicity for this evening suggests that there is for Britain today a choice: do we go with the numerically larger and faster growing Commonwealth or with the EU which, in relative terms, is economically less important than when we joined over 40 years ago?

So the Commonwealth and the EU is really the story of Britain, the Commonwealth and the EU. For, without Britain, Commonwealth interests would not have featured on the EEC/EU agenda and, without British membership of the EU it is questionable whether Britain would, in practice have been able to play the role we have at the heart of the modern Commonwealth.

Now, as when Britain was seeking to work out her place in the post war world, the question is: how do we see ourselves, how do we see our place in the world and how do we define and advance what we perceive as our national interest.

In 1945, as now, our Government was seeking two main things in the post-war world: security and prosperity. The fact that Britain then sought to secure those advantages on a global stage was not just a product of our Imperial history (which in 1945 was, just, still an Imperial present), or a sense of vindication and pride which, quite justifiably, we felt as one of the victorious powers – albeit one which had paid a very high price for ensuring its survival and that of much of the rest of Europe.

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