James Sunderland speaks in Commonwealth Day debate

James Sunderland highlights the opportunities membership of the Commonwealth has to offer and calls for an informal resolution for the eight Fijian veterans who lost their court battle to stay in the UK and for all foreign and Commonwealth soldiers serving in our armed forces to be offered the right to remain in the UK.

James Sunderland (Bracknell) (Con)

It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this very important debate on Commonwealth Day, Mr Paisley. As we know, the Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 sovereign states—it is pretty impressive. It covers almost 30 million sq km, with almost 2.5 billion people, and stretches across the entire globe, covering 21% of the world’s land area. Along with Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, the Commonwealth will have a larger share of the global population as time passes. Given that the majority of member nations are developing, the Commonwealth share of global GDP will also increase. Combined GDP was £10.4 trillion in 2017, moving to an estimated £13 trillion in 2020. The Commonwealth is a big beast.

Importantly, politically, no one Government within the Commonwealth exercises power over the other members. It is not a political union. The Queen exerts no political or Executive power; she merely occupies a symbolic position. Rather, this is an international organisation made stronger by the social, political and economic diversity of our members, where all are regarded as equals. We operate with common values and goals and we do a lot of work on the promotion of individual liberty, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, equality before the law, free trade and world peace, so it is very persuasive.

I want to make three points today. First, politically, we have a golden opportunity now with our position as a strong voice within the Commonwealth to forge closer links with the many up-and-coming nations that we share this membership with. In the post-EU world, the UK is the diaspora—we have people from all over the world and the Commonwealth living in the UK—and with this group of countries having a GDP of nearly two thirds of that of the EU, it is a fantastic opportunity to forge closer links. I am really pleased that the Government have made great progress this year and last year in new free trade deals around the world, but so much more can be done. I urge the Minister to do everything in his power to enhance mutual prosperity through trade with our Commonwealth friends.

Secondly, the Commonwealth games, due to be held in Birmingham in 2022, are a fantastic opportunity. We must showcase what we do. It is good for Birmingham, good for the Commonwealth and good for sport. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government back the games fully. If we need more money, so be it.

Lastly, I have been made aware of significant issues facing Commonwealth soldiers in our armed forces and Commonwealth veterans. It frustrates me deeply that their service to our nation has yet to be fully rewarded with a clear offer of right to remain. As the commanding officer for 27 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps in Aldershot only a few years ago, I was very proud to command the biggest and most diverse regiment in the British Army, with soldiers from more than 40 countries serving in that regiment. My view is quite clear: if you wear the uniform, go on operations, serve the Crown, serve Her Majesty, you are British—fact. These guys are not mercenaries; they are British.

I urge the Minister to help make two things happen. First, I want to see informal resolution for the eight Fijians who recently lost their court case. Notwithstanding the outcome from the court, it is really important that we recognise their service with an offer of indefinite right to remain. Secondly, I urge the Ministry of Defence to consider a much better offer for our foreign and Commonwealth soldiers. How fantastic would it be for these guys who serve our country, who serve our Crown, to be given what they rightfully deserve?