|Head of state||Monarch of the United Kingdom and Dominions|
|Head of government||Chancellor of the Imperial Council|
|Type of government||Constitutional Monarchy, Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates|
|Population||2 billion 562 million|
|Currencies||Pound sterling (UK and for international trade) and some Dominions have their own currency.|
The Imperial Commonwealth Federation (ICF), former British Empire, comprises the United Kingdom and its dominions, protectorates and colonies.
Its origins are in the Imperial Conferences (Colonial Conferences before 1911), where the chiefs of governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions meet to discuss on matters of common interest. The Statue of Westminster of 1924 established the ICF.
The road to establishing the ICF
The idea to establish an economic and political community of the British Empire arises in the late XIX Century. Groups like the Imperial Federation League created in London in 1884, aimed to promote an Imperial Federation. It called for a closer political union and alliance of the United Kingdom and the Dominions and advocated the establishment of an Imperial parliament to be composed of Britain and the self-governing members of the Empire. The said Imperial parliament, different from the British Parliament, would be the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, Dominions and colonies. It would also manage the affairs of the protectorates.
An economical union was advocated by Joseph Chamberlain, the most outspoken supporter of Tariff Reform and the Tariff Reform League (TRL) formed in 1903 as pressure group. The tariff reform called for the enactment of an Imperial Preference. It proposed a system of reciprocallylevelled tariffs or free trade agreements between different Dominions and Colonies within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The purpose of such practices was to promote the mutual prosperity, and thus, unity of allied imperial nations. While the idea of Imperial Preference is as old as colonialism itself, it:
- was a practice that was not necessarily used all the time;
- did not necessarily include every nation in the British Empire, and
- did not necessarily apply to every commodity.
Conferences of British and colonial Prime Ministers had occurred periodically since 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911. The formal organization of the Commonwealth developed from the Imperial Conferences, where the independence of the self-governing colonies and especially of dominions was recognized. After World War I (1915-1920), an Imperial Conference was called to establish a common front in the Paris Conference. The contribution to the war that the Dominions as also considered. Although the war had put a strain of the public finances of the UK, the Dominions where not willing to leave the protection of the UK. On this meeting it was issued the 'Dominions Statement' that acknowledges the political and diplomatic independence of the Dominions and recommends that the Governor-General, should no longer serve has representatives of the British Government in diplomatic relations between countries. The UK guaranteed the protection of the Dominions in exchange these would contribute to finance the royal navy and establish their own land and air forces in permanent basis. In the following years, High Commissioners, were appointed, with duties virtually identical to those of an ambassador. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by UK and the Dominions has independent parties to the treaty, which also added their membership to the League of Nations.
After the Irish Civil War (1920-1921) and the establishment of the Irish Free State (1922) it was included in its treaty and constitution the "adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations". This constitutional change and the Dominions' membership to the League of Nations made it necessary to call of an Imperial Conference. Its task would be to asses constitutional changes between UK and its Dominions. In 1923 it passed a resolution that would establish the Statue of Westminster (1924). The Statue established the independence of the Dominions and the Irish Free State, creating a group of equal members. It formalizes the relations between the UK and the Dominions and the relationship of the protectorates and colonies with the UK and Dominions. It creates an Imperial Council, chaired by the Prime Minister of the UK and integrated by the Prime Ministers (or their delegates) of the Dominions (senior members of the ICF). The purpose of the Imperial Council is to consult, advice and coordinate in foreign affairs, trade and defense and other matters of common interest. The agreed decisions become the official policies of the ICF and treaties among its members.
Developments after the Statue of Westminster
The British Empire Economic Conference of 1925 would suggest the formation of a zone of limited tariffs within the British Empire, but with high tariffs with the rest of the world. This was called "Imperial preference" or "Empire Free-Trade" (later Commonwealth Preference). This abandonment of open free trade led to a split in the British government and political parties. Liberals and conservatives divided into free traders and imperialists. The approval of the Import Duties Act of 1927 establish the Imperial preference system and the Imperial Trade Board in charge of its implementation.
Of symbolic importance and helping in creating common bonds are the British Empire Games and the Festival of the Empire. The idea of a sporting competition bringing together the members of the British Empire was first proposed by the Reverend Astley Cooper in 1891 when he wrote an article in The Times suggesting a "Pan-Britannic-Pan-Anglican Contest and Festival every four years as a means of increasing the goodwill and good understanding of the British Empire". In 1911, the Festival of the Empire was held in London to celebrate the coronation of King George V. As part of the festival an Inter-Empire Championships was held in which teams from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom competed in events such as boxing, wrestling, swimming and athletics. The second version of the Empire Festival was celebrated in 1928 and the first British Empire Games in 1930.
The Egyptian Crisis of 1931 jeopardized the Suez Canal. The joint operation of the Royal Navy and the regiments of the UK and the Dominions made it possible to control the uprising. Later participated in controlling the Arab Rebellion of Palestine of 1932. However both incidents showed grave problems of coordination, contradictory policies of the Dominions and lack of communication. To address this problems the Imperial Council decides to promote a defense pact among its members. The Commonwealth Defense Pact (1935), passed has international treaty and approved by the parliaments of the UK and Dominions, established the Commonwealth Defense Board. In peace times it is the defense planning agency that coordinates, standardizes and advises on the strategic necessities of the ICF. In wartime it acts has the executive arm of the Imperial War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, integrated by the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff.
In 1935 it was established a Secretariat of the ICF to help the tasks of the Imperial Council. Its main function is policy planning and advisory to the Imperial Council in matters refer to it. It is the main intergovernmental agency, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. It administered the Imperial Festival and British Empire Games until the creation of the British Empire Games Federation and the Imperial Commonwealth Arts and Science Council.
The British pound sterling (£) was until the beginning of World War I the chief currency of international trade, along the French franc. After 1920, the US dollar and Japanese yen became important currencies. Post war debts, mostly to the United States introduced a modified gold standard.
However, the Wall Street Crash of 1930 forced the UK to abandon the gold standard. In the need to re-establish the economies and encourage trade between ICF members, the Imperial Trade Board and Bank of England agreed to a series of decisions that would establish a Sterling Area. All ICF members would abandon the gold standard and peg their currencies to the pound sterling and discourage exchange controls. With the exception of Canada and Newfoundland (due to its trade with the US), all other members were incorporated into the newly created Commonwealth Currency Board, chaired by the Bank of England. This body would be responsible of overseeing payments and exchange rates. Its members were the Central Banks of the Dominions and regional currency boards.
Thus, the Sterling Area was formed by the British pound sterling (£, managed by the Bank of England), Irish pound (IR£, until 1931), Maltese pound (M£), Australian pound (A£), New Zealand pound (NZ£), Fijian pound (F£), British Indian rupee (BRs), Saint Helena pound (SH£), South African pound (SA£), East African shilling, Rhodesian pound (R£), British West African pound (BWA£), Falkland Islands pound (FK£), British Honduras dollar, Guyanese dollar, West Indies pound (WI£), West Indies dollar (WI$), Palestine Pound (P£), Gulf dirham, Egyptian pound (E£ or ج.م until 1932), Hong Kong dollar (under special regime), Straits dollar (under special regime) and Sarawak dollar
Members of the Imperial Commonwealth Federation
- Senior Member: UK and Dominions with home rule. De jure member of the Imperial Council.
- Junior members: Territories that have some degree of autonomy. Foreign relations, defense, communications, treasury administered by the UK or Imperial Council. UK has reserved powers in order to keep internal peace and constitutional revision. Participate in the Imperial Council on issues of the Import Duties Act of 1927 and defense.
- Crown colonies: Fully administered by the UK. In some cases, a legislative council advises the governor.
- Protectorates: Foreign relations and defense administered by the UK. They receive financial help and have some degree of participation in the Import Duties Act of 1927.
- Territories: Fully administered by the UK.
|United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) + Crown dependencies||Senior member||London||243,610|
|Irish Free State||Senior member (1922-1931)||Dublin||13,843|
|Northern Ireland||Senior member||Belfast||81,638|
|Cyprus||Protectorate 1878-1914, Colony 1914-? united with Greece||Nicosia||9,251|
America and Atlantic Ocean
|America and Atlantic Ocean (Dominion/Territory/Colony)||Status||Capital||Area||Population|
|Dominion of Canada||Senior member||Ottawa||9,579,458|
|Dominion of Newfoundland||Senior member (incorporated to Canada in 1935)||St. John's||405,212|
|West Indies Federation||Junior member||Basseterre (Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla)||272,220|
|British Honduras, joined to West Indies Federation||Junior member||Belize City||22,966|
|British Guiana, joined to West Indies Federation||Junior member||Georgetown||214,970|
|Saint Helena||Territory (a)||Jamestown||122|
|Ascension Island||Territory (a)||-||91|
|Tristan da Cunha||Territory (a)||-||207|
|South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands||Territory (b)||-||3,903|
|The Bahamas, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||Nassau||13,878|
|Barbados, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||Bridgetown||431|
|Jamaica, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||Kingston||10,991|
|Trinidad and Tobago, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||City of Port of Spain||5,131|
|British Windward Islands, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||St George's||2,100|
|British Leeward Islands, combined in West Indies Federation||Colony||St John's||1,047|
(a) Administered as British Overseas Territories of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
(b) Administered as British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI).
|Western Asia (Dominion/Territory/Colony)||Status||Capital||Area||Population|
|Federation of India||Colony (1858-1921), Junior member 1921, senior member 1932||New Delhi|
|Sikkim||Protectorate (incorporated to India 1932)||Gangtok||7,096|
|Maldives||Protectorate (incorporated to India 1922)||Malé||3,903|
|Bhutan||Protectorate (until 1932)||Timphu||38,394|
|Union of Burma||Colony 1932 (Separated from India)||Rangoon||676,578|
|Eastern Asia (Dominion/Territory/Colony)||Status||Capital||Area (sq km)||Population|
|Malayan Union||Junior member 1934||Kuala Lumpur||129,627|
|Federated Malay States||Protectorate (incorporated to Malayan Union 1934)||Kuala Lumpur|
|Protectorate (incorporated to Malayan Union 1934)||-|
|Sultanate of Brunei||Protectorate||Bandar Brunei||5,765|
|Kingdom of Sarawak||Protectorate||Kuching||124,450|
|British North Borneo||Colony (includes Lebuan since 1934)||Sandakan||76,115|
|Hong Kong||Colony||Hong Kong||1,104|
|Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Dinding)||Colony||Singapore||4,480|
|Shanghai International Settlement||Concession (Since 1862 US-UK concessions with autonomous local government)||Shanghai||22.6|
|Weihaiwei (a)||Leased territory (1898-1930, 1930-1940)||Port Edward||750|
|Tientsin British Concession (a)||Concession (1862-1925, became part of Tientsin International Settlement)||373|
|Shamian Island in Guangzhou (a)||Concession (1861-)||30|
|Hankow British Concession (a)||Concession (1862-1925 became part of Hankow International Free Port)||46,5|
|Union of South Africa||Senior Member||Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial)||1,221,037 (1910-1920), 2,046,455 (1920 to date)|
|Kingdom of Egypt||Protectorate until 1932, gained independence||Cairo||1,002,450|
|Bechuanaland Protectorate||Protectorate (a)||Mafeking (In South Africa, 1920-1930), and Gaborone (1930 to date)||581,730|
|Kingdom of Swaziland||Protectorate (a)||Mbabane||17,364|
|Sultanate of Zanzibar||Protectorate||Zanzibar City||2,650|
|North Sudan||Colony (1932-1932, joined Egypt)||Khartoum||1,886,068|
|South Sudan||Colony (1932-1932, joined British East Africa)||Juba||619,745|
|Anglo-Egyptian Sudan||Anglo-Egyptian condominium (1899-1932), divided in North and South Sudan (1932)||Khartoum||2,505813|
|British West Africa (Sierra Leona + Gambia + British Gold Coast)||Colony||Freetown||320.655|
|British East Africa (Kenya + Uganda + Tanganyika Territory + South Sudan)||Colony||Nairobi||1.813.139|
|British Central Africa or Rhodesia-Nyasaland (Northern Rhodesia + Southern Rhodesia + Nyasaland Protectorate)||Colony||Salisbury||1.261.559|
|Territory of Basutoland||Colony (a)||Maseru||30,355|
|Suez Canal Zone||Territory||Port Said|
(a) High Commission Territories, under the political responsibility and administration of the High Commissioner for Southern Africa. Its office is separate from the one of Governor-General of South Africa.
|Middle East (Dominion/Territory/Colony)||Status||Capital||Area||Population|
|Federation of Gulf States||Protectorate (established in 1935).||Manama (Bahrain)||423,107|
|Trucial States (also known as Trucial Oman, Trucial Coast, and Trucial Sheikhdoms) - incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935.||Protectorate (a)||Dubai|
|Bahrain, incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935.||Protectorate (a)||Manama|
|State of Kuwait incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935,||Protectorate (a)||Kuwait City|
|State of Qatar, incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935.||Protectorate (a)||Doha|
|Muscat and Oman incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1936.||Protectorate (a)||Muscat|
|Aden Colony and Protectorate, reorganized in 1935 has Federation of South Arabia||Colony and Protectorate||Aden||332,970|
(a) Administered by the British residency of the Persian Gulf at Bahrain.
Oceania, Pacific and Antarctic territories
(a) High Commissioner of BWPT also Governor of Fiji, in the 1930s post moved to Governor of Gilbert and Elice Islands.