Lord John Taylor of Warwick

Exports: Africa and the Commonwealth

In 1974 a choir of schoolchildren sang a song called “Join Together” at the Commonwealth Games. The song became popular all over the world for its powerful lyrics. Noble Lords may be relieved to hear that I will not attempt to sing the song—I can sing it if you wish. No, perhaps not, but the chorus went:
And people, black and white, will come
from all parts of the world …
We’ll get to know them well
And hope that in the future
Our relationships will tell
This 1970s song was full of excitement and expectation that the bond expressed by the Commonwealth Games would be not only in sports but in other relationships, such as trade. Nearly 45 years later, the sad truth is that that has not happened. We as a nation have been distracted by the dazzling headlights of the European Union. Leaving the EU through Brexit gives us a real opportunity to expand our trading policy and rekindle our relationships with other nations of the Commonwealth. This is essential because there are compelling facts about the Commonwealth that are worth emphasising. Trade in goods within the Commonwealth is now worth about £250 billion each year to its members and is projected to be worth nearly £1 trillion by 2020. However, according to the latest available figures, only 9% of total UK exports go to the Commonwealth, compared to 44% to the EU. The EU also accounts for 53% of UK imports, compared to a miserly 8% from the Commonwealth. More than a third of Commonwealth members are African nations, including giant economies such as South Africa and Nigeria, yet UK exports to Africa remain extremely low compared with EU trading. Exports to Germany are more than five times that of UK exports to all 18 African Commonwealth nations.

However, more than the facts, the Commonwealth is a family. It shares a number of benefits, such as the English language, the rule of law, education, parliamentary democracy and Queen Elizabeth as sovereign. With such poor trading figures, is this how we treat family? Surely not.

My father came to Britain in the late 1940s after serving as a sergeant in the British Eighth Army in the Second World War. As a Jamaican, he was a member of the Commonwealth and in coming to England he did not see himself as travelling to foreign parts but coming home to the motherland. From the Caribbean, his first stop was LA. That sounds glamorous, but LA was in fact lower Acton in west London. Eventually, he found his paradise: a bedsit room off the Paradise ring road near the gasworks in Birmingham. His big break came when he was signed to play professional cricket for Warwickshire. He was used to tropical rainstorms interrupting play, but on his debut for the county he had the experience of playing cricket during snowfall, which he had never seen before. Despite the shock of his hypothermia and mild frostbite this was the beginning of a very happy 20-year career with the club. His story, and that of many immigrants to Britain from the rest of the Commonwealth, builds upon that concept of family, which we have to keep emphasising.

In Britain, as in other Commonwealth countries, Christian and other faith communities are networks of leadership and expertise. I have been involved with several of them for some decades, but I have yet to see a true partnership between government and the Commonwealth faith groups in addressing the vital issue of trade. In Britain alone there are more than 5,000 black-majority churches. Black churches attract thousands of people to each service, week by week. Those who go to these churches are mainly from Africa and the Caribbean. I have had the honour of being a keynote speaker at many of these churches, including at a major congress in Lagos, Nigeria. The audience present was more than one million people and many more watching on cable television. The vice-president of Nigeria is a member of that Church, so just imagine the leadership potential. Just over a year ago it made me an elder of its worldwide network. Some of the young leaders of that Church have been  trained through the Warwick Leadership Academy, which I started some years ago. Many of the members of these faith groups are highly skilled professionals. They are part of a wider Commonwealth diaspora, living and working in Britain, and have been waiting in the wings for too long to help with issues such as trade. Will the Minister please indicate whether the Government have a strategy to embrace the untapped contribution of Commonwealth faith groups?

The issue of identity and belonging to the Commonwealth family is vital but it needs a fresh vision. There are opportunities. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Popat, that there should be a Commonwealth bank. We have a World Bank and a European bank, so why not a Commonwealth bank? Why not a Commonwealth university to further promote education across a region where almost half of the people are under 25? This is especially relevant on the day that the Government launched their industrial strategy, which will require a highly skilled workforce, including those travelling here from abroad. In this context, why not a Commonwealth passport? The Government’s news release today was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement of an engagement between a young couple I believe named Harry and Meghan from Kensington. I am delighted that Prince Harry is following my example in marrying a beautiful and brilliant American lady, as I did with Lady Taylor. Having worked for the BBC for some years, I have seen from the inside the role that the media play. The European Union has its own newspaper and the Euronews TV channel, so why not a Commonwealth newspaper and a Commonwealth TV channel? Those outlets would be powerful tools to strengthen the ties within the Commonwealth.

We all recognise the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela. When Mr. Mandela was President of South Africa, he came to London and I was privileged to have lunch with him. We discussed at length the concept of the united states of Africa. There are 18 African nations in the Commonwealth but the UK does not have trade envoys for 10 of them; nor are there any for the entire Caribbean Commonwealth region. This is not right, in my view, bearing in mind the UK’s strong ties with the Caribbean. I had the honour some years ago of being invited to open the Jamaican Expo at Olympia with the Jamaican high commissioner. My theme that day was that Jamaica is open for business, and it still is.

We are all children of the Commonwealth. We may have come over in different ships but we are all in the same boat now. For too long trade with Africa and the Commonwealth has been overshadowed by our focus on the European Union. Brexit will not end but mend our trading links, by strengthening them around the world. Our trade with Africa and the Commonwealth has to be turned from lacklustre to robust. We are a great trading nation but we can be even greater. It is not too late to be what we might have been.