British Commonwealth

The British Commonwealth of Nations is an organisation that creates an atmosphere of economic cooperation between its members.

The British Empire gradually changed in the late 19th century. In 1867, Canada had become the first colony to become a self-governing Dominion, a status that came to mean equality with Britain. In the 20th century, other countries followed: Australia in 1900, New Zealand in 1907, South Africa in 1910 and the Irish Free State in 1921.

In 1884 Lord Rosebury was the first to describe the new allegiances between the Dominion countries as a 'Commonwealth of Nations'. Leaders of these countries met every four years at conferences to discuss the nature of the relationship. At the Imperial Conference of 1926 the British Commonwealth of Nations was formally established. The Dominions became autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status and in no way subordinate to one another, and united by common allegiance to the Crown. This was formalised in English law by the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

After the Second World War, the British Empire finally dissolved. To reflect the Commonwealth's changing character, the word British was dropped from the title, and from 1946 the members became the Commonwealth of Nations. This paved the way for other newly independent countries to join the Commonwealth.

The London Declaration of 1949, when the issue of republican membership was resolved, was a milestone in Commonwealth history. India had gained independence in 1947. India wanted to become a republic but also wanted to remain a member of the Commonwealth, so the principles of membership had to be rethought. It was agreed that membership would depend on members recognising the British monarch as a symbol of their free association and as the Head of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is committed to racial equality and national sovereignty. In 2006 there were 53 nations of the Commonwealth. Any country that accepts the association's basic aims and has a present or past constitutional link to another Commonwealth member can join.

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