From the British Empire to the Modern Commonwealth

From the British Empire to the Modern Commonwealth

However, not all the former members of the British Empire continued ties with Britain. “There was the precedent of the thirteen North American colonies which forcibly took their independence between 1776 and 1783. In the twentieth century, however, the withdrawals were agreed to more amicably.”19 During the 1930s, as we saw in the previous chapter, the Irish, or at least the southern Irish, extracted themselves from the British connection though the independence of Eire was not formally recognised until 1949. Egypt had never formally been part of the empire, although a protectorate was established there between 1914 and 1922 and various degrees of British military occupation had been imposed between 1886 and 1956. The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, which had been run as a condominium by Britain and Egypt since 1899, was granted its independence in 1956; and it withdrew from the Commonwealth. Britain’s rule over League of Nation’s mandate in the Middle East was exercised fairly lightly, with independence being granted to Iraq in 1932 and the Trans-Jordan in 1946. The violence of the two communities in Palestine led Britain to relinquish quickly its charge there and the independent state of Israel emerged. Burma, on receiving its independence in 1947, immediately left the Commonwealth. In 1960 British Somaliland joined up with Italian Somalia to become an independent state outside the Commonwealth; similarly, the Southern Cameroons joined the French Cameroons in 1961 and left the Commonwealth. The People’s Republic of Southern Yemen pulled out in 1967, while Pakistan left in 1972 after failing to receive support in its civil war. East Pakistan, however, stayed within the Commonwealth, as the new state of Bangladesh. In 1961 South Africa voluntarily withdrew from the Commonwealth, probably just before being pushed out because of its racial policies. The white settlers of Southern Rhodesia in 1965 unilaterally declared their independence of Britain; this followed prolonged attempts by the British government and Black pressure groups to coax or coerce the whites into granting adequate political rights to the black majority population. Finally, in April 1980, Rhodesia attained legal independence as the state of Zimbabwe. It became the forty-third member state of the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth Membership as at 31 December 1980
Date of Membership
Australia Q (1901)
Bahamas Q 1973
Bangladesh R 1972
Barbados Q 1966
Botswana R 1966
Canada Q (1867)
Cyprus R 1961 (independence 1960)
Dominica R 1978
Fiji Q 1970
The Gambia R 1965
Ghana R 1957
Grenada Q 1974
Guyana R 1966
India R 1947
Jamaica Q 1962
Kenya R 1963
Kiribati R 1979
Lesotho M 1966
Malawi R 1964
Malaysia M 1957
Malta R 1964
Mauritius Q 1968
Nauru* R 1968
New Zealand Q (1907)
Nigeria R 1960
Papua New-Guinea Q 1975
St. Lucia Q 1979
St. Vincent* Q 1979
Seychelles R 1976
Sierra Leone R 1961
Singapore R 1965
Solomon Islands Q 1978
Sri Lanka R 1948
Swaziland M 1968
Tanzania R 1961
Tonga M 1970
Trinidad and Tobago R 1962
Tuvalu* Q 1979
Uganda R 1962
United Kingdom Q
Vanuatu R 1980
Western Samoa M 1970 (independent 1962)
Zambia R 1964
Zimbabwe R 1980
* Special member
Q Queen Elizabeth as Head of State
M Other monarchy
R Republic

Note: Belize and Antigua / Barbuda achieved independence in 1981, bringing the membership of the Commonwealth to forty-six. In each case Queen Elizabeth remained as head of state.

(From JUDD, D. and SLINN, P. The Evolution of the Modern Commonwealth. 1902-80. (McMillan) London, 1982, pp. 144-145.)

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