|45 MPs in the UK have urged fast-track visa applications for Commonwealth arrivals (photo: Parliament Street)|
Written by Christopher Hope - The Telegraph
In a letter to Amber Rudd, the MPs urge the Government to “extend the hand of friendship to our Commonwealth partners” and make the UK more welcoming for Commonwealth citizens.
The MPs suggest that visa rules be fast-tracked for visitors from the 52 Commonwealth countries, while signs at the border should be changed to specifically welcome Commonwealth visitors. The recommendations are due to be debated in Parliament in a fortnight’s time on Feb 26.
The MPs, including Sir Henry Bellingham, a former foreign office minister, and Tim Loughton, a former education minister, want the changes to be considered ahead of next month’s Commonwealth trade ministers meeting in London.
They say: “The focus of this meeting is renewed trade and friendship between the UK and the Commonwealth.
“Home Secretary, you are in a position to effect real, positive change in our relations with our Commonwealth partners. It would be a shame to let this opportunity pass us by.”
The letter has been organised by Jake Berry MP, the Conservative MP who is helping the Telegraph campaign for a new royal yacht Britannia.
Other signatories include Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs, Sir Paul Beresford, Alec Shelbrooke, Peter Bone and Charlie Elphicke.
Lord Marland, the former energy minister and current chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, who is organising the first ever meeting of 25 Commonwealth trade ministers in London on March 9-10, welcomed the letter.
He told The Telegraph: “Visas are a constant source of antagonism for Commonwealth countries. If the Government is going to turbo-charge its relationship with the Commonwealth when it becomes chair of the Commonwealth next year, it will have to take into consideration visas, as well as making it easier for students to come and study in this country as part of the rebuilding of relationships with the Commonwealth post-Brexit.”
Sources close to #UK & #Australia governments confirm #Brexit deal is on course with visa opportunities for citizenshttps://t.co/e8twQKnmIJ— CANZUK International (@CANZUKint) February 10, 2017
“The lack of consideration for Commonwealth citizens is at its starkest at our border. In 2015, the last year for which figures are readily available, from Australia, Canada and India alone, Britain welcomed 2.2 million visitors who spent over £2 billion.
“These three Commonwealth states are consistently found among the top five non-EEA nationalities arriving in the UK and travel for both business and pleasure.
“However, while EU citizens are collecting their luggage or exchanging greetings with loved ones, our Commonwealth friends wait tirelessly in the ‘all other passports’ queue.”
They point out that the Commonwealth, which includes five G20 countries, “offers a ready-made, English language trading network for Britain.
“We must be clear about the importance we place on our relationship with the Commonwealth and start the process of strengthening ties for crucial future trade negotiations.”
They add: “A key starting point in the renewal of our ties with our Commonwealth partners should be a reconfiguring of our border control system.”
The MPs say: “Signs at border control that class every non-EU national as ‘All other passports’ should be changed to ‘The Commonwealth and all other passports’.”
They add that “the Government must commit to examine ways to reduce wait times for Commonwealth citizens entering the UK, perhaps through the use of dedicated Commonwealth border control gates.
“Entry processing may not be as quick as in the EU channel as several of the 52 Commonwealth nations require a visa for travel to the UK. However, this would send out an important message about the value Britain places on its relationship with the Commonwealth.”