Commonwealth leaders from 53 mostly former British colonies will come together in London today, with UK Prime Minister Theresa May looking to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth before the UK quits the European Union in just under a year’s time.
Downing Street has released a plethora of announcements and May has been at the forefront of heralding opportunities, from close working on cyber-security initiatives, to fighting malaria, to saving the oceans.
The other big story at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting today is that it is expected to be the last one the Queen attends, and there are still doubts over whether her son and next in line to the British throne Prince Charles will succeed her as leader of the intergovernmental organisation.
Unfortunately for May, the row over the Windrush generation — people who arrived in the UK from the Caribbean as children in the first wave of Commonwealth immigration 70 years ago and often on their parents’ passports — has overshadowed the week.
These are the big schemes and announcements made by the UK Government this week.
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Saving the ocean
Yesterday the UK said it wants to ban the sale of plastic straws and other single-use products and wants the rest of the Commonwealth allies to also take action to tackle marine waste.
Drink stirrers and cotton buds would also be banned under the plans which are part of the government’s pledge to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Britain will commit $87.21 million at the summit to develop new ways of tackling plastic waste and help Commonwealth countries limit how much plastic ends up in the ocean.
May said in a statement ahead of a Commonwealth summit today:
Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
We are rallying Commonwealth countries to join us in the fight against marine plastic. Together we can effect real change so that future generations can enjoy a natural environment that is healthier than we currently find it.
Earlier this week May announced an investment of £15 million to help Commonwealth countries strengthen their cyber-security capabilities.
The funds will be used to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors to prevent them targeting other countries, including the UK.
In a joint statement, GCHQ and the FBI on Monday claim that Russia has been probing the cyber-defences to identify vulnerabilities that will ‘lay a foundation for future offensive operations’.
The National Cyber Security Centre, the FBI and the Department for Homeland Security in the US have warned that this ‘threatens our respective safety, security and economic well-being’.
Verdict reported the Russian home router hack has the potential to bring down national infrastructure, including air traffic control centres.
Commonwealth leaders are being urged to commit to wiping out malaria and asked to try to halve the number of cases in their countries over the next five years as part of scientists’ hopes to eradicate the disease by 2030.
Halving the number of malaria cases in Commonwealth countries could prevent 350 million cases of the disease and save 650,000 lives.
The UK is a proud leader in the fight against malaria, which has seen deaths cut by 60% and saved seven million lives since 2000. We have made a major contribution to that progress.
But the job is not yet done. Today there are millions still at risk, economies held back and a child’s life needlessly taken every two minutes from this disease. That is why I am championing a new Commonwealth commitment to halve malaria across member countries by 2023.
Cash for schools
The UK has pledged £212 million to help a million girls living in developing Commonwealth nations go to school for longer. May pledged the cash with the aim of helping children spend 12 years in school.
Downing Street said the money would ‘see nearly one million more girls in developing Commonwealth countries being able to go to school’.
May cited estimates that global GDP could be increased by up to £19.5 trillion if women played the same role as men in the labour market.