Theresa May recently visited Africa, commencing her tour with visits to South Africa and Nigeria, before turning her attention towards Kenya. This was an attempt to bolster relations with members of the Commonwealth. The UK intends to be the largest G7 investor in Africa by 2022 according to Downing Street.
Whilst there were constant reports on the potential increase in the African population by the Western media, China saw this as a great opportunity to and has become one of the largest and most visible investors in Africa. The fear that Britain may be losing Africa has sent the British PM to secure their respective relationships as the UK braces for the impact of Brexit. Theresa May is not the only political figure who has visited Africa recently. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also made visits to Africa to ensure that the European Union side of deals regarding trade and immigration remain intact.
Alongside trade deals, there have been discussions on issues relating to immigration. Many of the people crossing over from Libya to Europe are Africans. The worsening events in Africa have encouraged many Africans to attempt the move to Europe with the hope of reaching greener pastures.
Whilst the Chinese seem to have a grip on some African countries, such as Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia and Nigeria, the UK will need to strengthen its ties with African countries so as not to lose them to the lucrative deals China is offering. It is important that the UK and Theresa May strengthen ties with the Commonwealth, to lessen the impact felt by the UK when it leaves the EU.
China and African countries recently held a forum whereby China pledged an extra $60 billion to the continent. This is exclusive of the $200+ billion already owed to China by African countries such as: Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya.
The UK will have to surpass this amount of investment to prove its sincerity in resurrecting the Commonwealth. If it does not, the attempt may appear to suggest that the Commonwealth is a desperate, last-ditch move to avoid the negative effects of Brexit.
However, uncertainties surrounding a working relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth remain. It is not clear whether Mrs May intends to utilise the full strength of the Commonwealth or simply rely on it as a rebound from leaving the EU. The Commonwealth consists of 53 countries around the globe, whilst the EU currently has 28 members inclusive of the UK. The strength of the Commonwealth is evident from the numbers, its larger population resulting in a wider target market for UK export. In addition, it is speculated that the UK may be able to import agricultural products from Commonwealth countries at a lower rate compared to potential EU-set tariffs.
With a population of over 2 billion people in the Commonwealth, the UK can be certain that there is a market available for its goods. Theresa May has, to her credit, focused on trade, security and even the tough subject of immigration during her visits. Immigration is a difficult subject as the UK vote against remaining in the EU was partially due to the perception that it had no control over who comes into the UK from the EU. While this was not the only reason, it played a significant role in why many UK citizens voted out of the EU. It is important to note that this is with the exception of Scotland, which was vehemently against the idea of leaving the EU.
It would seem that the UK will, in the future, be able to have greater control as to who comes into the UK and for how long they can stay. This is supported by the fact that most Commonwealth countries require visas to be able to come to the UK. This will also allow the UK to attract more skilled people from Commonwealth countries, in order to shore up the UK work force, which in turn, will hopefully increase productivity and boost the UK economy as a whole.
Theresa May will need to take into account the fact that the Commonwealth has changed significantly and that most of the Commonwealth countries now deal with some of the bigger members of the EU, including Germany and France. Whether the PM has assigned sufficient weight to this factor remains to be seen. Despite their connections with the EU, some Commonwealth countries are under-producing. There are also political concerns as many of these countries have unorthodox leaders which put a strain on any inter-state relations.
Turning to the matter of security, the UK may end up spending more money to convince a vast majority of Commonwealth states to update their security protocols, to ensure they can tackle the same security issues Western countries are attempting to address.
As a result of these issues surrounding trade, security and immigration, it is possible the UK will struggle to cope post-Brexit.