If the EU referendum goes down to the wire, the vote of a million-strong Commonwealth citizens may well be the deciding factor.
The eccentricities of the British electoral system allows for resident citizens of the 54 Commonwealth nations to vote in the referendum on EU membership.
According to the 2011 Census, there are nearly a million (894,087) eligible Commonwealth voters, which even based on a higher turnout could represent 2 per cent of the vote. Added to that are Commonwealth-born citizens who have been naturalised, which represents a further 1.3 million votes.
But which way this cohort of voters is likely to vote is difficult to predict. The Commonwealth is a diverse family of nations with varying interests. It includes two other EU member states, Cyprus and Malta, whose citizens are likely to vote for the UK to remain.
But among communities from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, there is a sense that the UK’s immigration policies discriminate against them. Indian student numbers have plummeted, while Bangladeshi restaurateurs struggle to recruit chefs for their curry houses. There remains a residual lingering sense among many Commonwealth citizens that the UK turned its back on them when it joined the EU despite Britain’s historic ties with these countries.
But for many, including the Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, having a strong UK voice in Europe to articulate Commonwealth perspectives and to push for better access to EU markets is important.
“Some think the Commonwealth will benefit more if Britain leaves the EU. But there are lot of concerns over security and stability of the Union, which affect not only Europe but the world,” a Commonwealth diplomat pointed out.
He added: “Britain’s transatlantic special relationship with the US can influence European politics, especially security, world trade and world diplomacy. Little will be gained from sitting on the fence and trying to influence the EU from outside. There is no room in the 21st century to withdraw and take an isolationist position like pre- 1973.”