PRESS RELEASE BY THE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER: Speech by the Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat at the High Commissioners’ Banquet at the Guildhall

Sir David, President, Premier, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen, Sheriffs, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen

Allow me first to thank the Royal Commonwealth Society for inviting me to share my views with you for the second year in row.

There has never been such a time in the history of my small but proud country, where we assumed two international roles, and at such a critical juncture in European and Global political affairs, those of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union and concurrently Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth.

The two organisations, the EU and the Commonwealth were both conceived out of international developments which eventually marked the end of world views as we knew them. They were syntheses born out of crisis of sorts, which took the forms of wars, revolutions but also peaceful settlements.

Sir Winston Churchill believed that a United States of Europe would strengthen the world organization. He saw it as complimentary to the British Commonwealth.

He rightly asked “Why should it not take its rightful place with other great groupings and help to shape the honourable destiny of man?” He stressed that “the structure of the United States of Europe will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important”.

The purpose of referring to his speech rises out of a necessity to inject a sense of a historical context and reality. Only history can illuminate our path as we face the daunting challenges that lie ahead of us.

When individual countries pool in their sovereignty for a higher cause, in some areas such as trade, the economy, and the single market, positive results can be achieved.

It displeases us to see the U.K. leaving the Union. It is a reality that we need to come to terms with unless the British people change their mind. But that is not for me to decide.

I believe in the Italian term of “fatti chiari amicizia lunga”, long-term friendships are best guaranteed if all parties put their cards on the table.

We would like to see a fair deal with the U.K. We hope for a smooth divorce in which each partner gets what it is entitled to.

I hope you do understand that in doing so we, as Europeans cannot afford a situation whereby it becomes more beneficial to stay outside of the European Union than a member. That would render any organization pointless.

As the U.K. moves on, I am comforted by the fact that it will remain a beacon of free trade.

The mixed signals we are receiving from key world powers on trade matters mean that there is a great need of such beacons more than ever.

In overcoming the ambiguity and uncertainty in trade and other political matters, the Commonwealth’s strategic importance has never been so striking.

Under this new political scenario, and as the country which has conceived the Commonwealth, the U.K. has a tremendous opportunity to enhance its leadership role within the organization, I do lament that the United Kingdom had to first decide to exit the EU before rediscovering its love for the Commonwealth. But within this scenario, this is at least one positive outcome.

Last week, together with the U.K., we hosted the Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting. I can confirm that there is a considerable degree of enthusiasm from Commonwealth countries to engage with the United Kingdom’s global drive for free trade agreements. I do believe that the Commonwealth Secretariat has a role to play in assisting smaller Commonwealth countries prepare for such talks, providing and pooling expertise and providing templates that would rationalize and save time in negotiations, making them more linear and predictable.

The Commonwealth Factor that we proudly boast of and which is founded on our historical ties, the long-established trading relations, our shared values based on the key principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, similar administrative and legal systems, and dynamic diasporas, renders trade costs between us Commonwealth partners on average 19% lower compared to other country pairings.

This is indeed remarkable.

But this turn of events provides an opportunity to turn a Commonwealth based on the past into a Commonwealth built on the future opportunities. It would change the meaning of the Commonwealth for our young people, from a nostalgic historic society to a vibrant organization providing the cornerstone for their jobs.

The opportunities we have ahead of us are crystal clear, and the political scenario that is unfolding, makes it imperative for the Commonwealth and the European Union, linked by the U.K., to forge a stronger linkage.

Whilst the European Union and the Commonwealth are very distinct bodies, they nevertheless have much to offer each other in terms of economic opportunities. The Commonwealth has the potential to be a powerful voice in international trade negotiations, especially through its unique and inherent trade advantage.

At the same time, Malta and Cyprus, as the only two surviving Commonwealth countries in the EU, need to take up a new role in representing as best as we can the interests of Commonwealth countries, especially smaller ones in their deals with the EU.

A stronger linkage or alliance, between the European Union and the Commonwealth, can truly bring forth tremendous benefits to all our people.

This is a time that requires resilience, good will and determination.

It is a time where optimism is not a luxury nut a necessity.

May I now request you all to join me in a toast to the health and to the wellbeing of the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation.

Thank you.

Source: Government of Malta