The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth

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The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth
By Philip Murphy
Oxford University Press, 2018
256 pp.
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Murphy, the director of the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, argues that the Commonwealth of Nations does not exist. Formally, to be sure, the organization encompasses one-third of the world’s population in its 53 postimperial member states. Queen Elizabeth II is its titular head, Prince Charles is her presumed successor, and Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are freshly minted Commonwealth youth ambassadors. Euroskeptics profess a deep faith that Brexit offers a golden opportunity for the United Kingdom to reembrace the Commonwealth, thereby unleashing a bonanza of trade and investment. Yet all of this, Murphy argues, is little more than pomp and circumstance. Commonwealth members disagree about almost everything, even basic human rights. The organization coddles “a grim collection of charlatans, chancers and outright villains.” Decades ago, citizens of member countries could immigrate to the United Kingdom, but no more. The United Kingdom still grants Commonwealth members preferential tariffs, but only through common eu rules: the threat of exclusion from the European market means Commonwealth leaders have unanimously denounced Brexit. Murphy ends by encouraging the United Kingdom to shed its post-imperial delusions—even though that may put him out of a job.

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