Theresa May: The Commonwealth can play a key role in addressing the stark challenges we face

Posted On: 
14th April 2018

From tackling climate change to defending the international order from the threats of terrorism and cyber-attack, the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to play a leading role in addressing the great global challenges of our time, writes Theresa May

Theresa May attends the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey last year
PA Images

This month’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting comes at a time when global prosperity and security has never been more dependent on our ability to work together with like-minded nations across the world.

So, as we welcome the largest gathering of world leaders ever to be hosted in the UK – together with representatives from business, civil society and youth organisations across 53 countries – I believe we must seize the opportunity to shape a new role for our Commonwealth family of nations: as a global institution at the forefront of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

The challenges we face together are stark. Russia’s despicable actions in Salisbury and its support for the Syrian regime continue to undermine the rules-based international order. Threats of terrorism and cyber-attack are transcending traditional international borders. The damaging effects of climate change are imperilling the world we leave for our children. A new wave of protectionism is weakening support for free and fair trade. While in some Commonwealth nations, youth unemployment and a lack of rights for women and minorities mean that economies and societies aren’t working for everyone.

In the face of such challenges, some might try to dismiss the Commonwealth as a relic of the past. But I believe it can be a vital and dynamic partnership in forging our common future. For the modern Commonwealth is a snapshot of the world at large. With a third of the world’s population and a quarter of its nations spanning six continents, it has remarkable breadth. Indeed, no other organisation can rival both its geographical and cultural diversity, while giving all nations an equal role, an equal voice and an equal standing.

So, when it comes to building the international alliances that can keep our people safe, the Commonwealth must be part of that global co-operation. That is why we have made security a central theme of the leaders’ meeting for the first time. From defending the rules-based international order to countering cyber-attack, violent extremism and human trafficking, a safer and more secure Commonwealth will mean a safer and more secure world.

When it comes to leading the global effort against climate change, it is the Commonwealth that has one of the most authentic voices, with many of its island-states severely affected by extreme weather events. Indeed, I am all too aware we are only hosting this Summit in London because of the devastation wrought on Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam in 2015. The same is true of protecting the world’s oceans, where these island states know better than anyone the damage being done to marine economies. So, the Commonwealth is uniquely placed to lead the way and this Summit will include pioneering commitments to tackle the scourge of plastics pollution.

The Commonwealth is also uniquely positioned to champion free and fair trade. For the best way to check the rise of protectionism in the global economy is to drive inclusive growth that can deliver prosperity for all. Yet today too many Commonwealth citizens are being left behind. So, this Summit will have a particular emphasis on putting that right. This includes tackling youth unemployment, improving women’s access to economic opportunities and addressing discrimination in all its forms.

The Commonwealth is also a vital partner in efforts to advance global health. For example, over 90 per cent of Commonwealth citizens live in Malaria-affected countries and so this Summit will see renewed efforts to wipe out this deadly disease.

In all of these ways and more, a modern Commonwealth family has a unique opportunity to play a leading role in helping to address many of the greatest global challenges of our time. I am determined to ensure that it does – for the benefit of our people in the UK, the Commonwealth and the wider world, today and for generations to come.


Theresa May is the Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Maidenhead