Future of the Commonwealth — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:18 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 3:18 pm, 21st March 2018

Yes, I do agree. As we design an immigration system to meet the needs of the country, we will not have either artificial numbers or systems that do not meet the needs of businesses or our skills agenda.

Today the EU has, or is negotiating, trade deals with more than 80% of Commonwealth countries, in part thanks to the efforts of UK Governments, so we must ensure that we develop bilateral agreements to replace them. Bespoke deals could do just that. Singapore, for example, is a tech business hub for its region and could be a potential gateway to other Asian countries for British businesses. Like finance, technology consolidates in hubs, around talent and investment. We already enjoy a prominent position in the sector, with 18% of global data flows passing through the UK, so there is opportunity to grow. Singapore is currently finalising a deal with the EU.

We therefore hopefully have a foundation from which to work, with the potential for it to be more tailored to our national interests. Canada, too, has a basis from which to work, with the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement. Furthermore, we are Canada’s largest export market within the EU, and therefore there is a great mutual benefit to striking a deal.

In 2015 UK Commonwealth exports were £47.4 billion, with five larger economies—Australia, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa—accounting for 70% of our Commonwealth exports and 65% of imports. There is therefore scope to expand our working relationships with the smaller developing Commonwealth nations. Technology, regulation, standards and skills training can act as a gateway to greater investment and openness in developing economies and provide career opportunities for large numbers of young people.

The Commonwealth provides the UK with a great opportunity for the further development of economic, diplomatic and cultural ties with nations that already have much in common with us. As the Prime Minister said last year, we face new and unprecedented joint challenges, and we all have a responsibility to work together as partners to ensure that the Commonwealth has the institutional strength to face them. Our trading relationships, if executed strategically, will drive prosperity both here and throughout the Commonwealth.