The London Declaration was a declaration issued by the governments of the Commonwealth of Nations on the issue of India's continued membership of the Commonwealth. It was made in London on 28 April 1949, and marked the birth of the modern Commonwealth. The declaration had two main provisions. First, it allowed the Commonwealth to admit and retain members that were not Commonwealth realms, including both republics and indigenous monarchies. Second, it renamed the organisation from the 'British Commonwealth' to the 'Commonwealth of Nations', reflecting the first change.
The former term included the device of terminology that would reflect both the developing political independence, and the right of countries in the Commonwealth to be republics, and the commonality of allegiance that was the cornerstone of the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster 1931. This proved to be a major stumbling block, until a compromise position was proposed by the Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, who planned a position of 'Head of the Commonwealth', separate but held by the same person as the monarch.
The declaration stated vis-à-vis India:
|“||The Government of India have ... declared and affirmed India's desire to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.||”|
This formula has since been deemed to be a sufficient precedent for all other countries.
The issue had been discussed at the 1948 Prime Ministers Conference, the agenda of which was dominated by the imminent decisions of the governments of both India and the state of Ireland to declare themselves republics. At the meeting, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proposed a 'Ten Point Memorandum' on the settlement between India and the Commonwealth, under which the President of India would act as the representative of the British monarch in India. The Cabinet Committee on Commonwealth Relations recognised that Nehru's proposals could not constitute a basis for continued Commonwealth membership, and that a further conference would be required.
At the next conference, in April 1949, Nehru, seeking above all to avoid two-tiered membership, conceded a more agreeable three-point programme, based upon common Commonwealth citizenship, a declaration of India's continued membership, and recognition of the monarch in a separate capacity than that as monarch. This met general agreement, particularly with the new South Africa Prime Minister Daniel François Malan, and, over the next two days, the draft was crafted into a final agreement. To avoid criticisms about dropping the word 'British' from the name of the Commonwealth, Nehru conceded a reference to the 'British Commonwealth of Nations' in the opening paragraph of the document as an historically-appropriate reference.
King George VI was reticently in favour of the separation of the positions of King and Head of the Commonwealth, having met and liked Nehru, but was concerned with the practicalities. News of the agreement was hailed by all those on the opposition benches in the British House of Commons, including Winston Churchill and Clement Davies. By contrast, Jan Smuts, who had been defeated by Malan in the South African general election the previous year and was considered second only to Churchill as a Commonwealth statesman, was bitterly opposed.
India became a republic in 1950 and remained in the Commonwealth. However, Ireland, which was in the same situation having passed the Republic of Ireland Act 1948, declared itself a republic on 18 April 1949, weeks before the declaration, and subsequently left the Commonwealth. Ireland is now eligible to rejoin, though it has not done so.
- "London Declaration". Retrieved 23 June 2011.
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- Marshall, Peter (April 1999). "Shaping the 'New Commonwealth', 1949". The Round Table 88 (350): 185–197. doi:10.1080/003585399108108.
- The Modern Commonwealth
- "Status of India in the Commonwealth". Documents on Canadian External Relations. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 6 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
- Colville, Sir John (2004). The Fringes of Power. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 1-84212-626-1.
- "1949–1999: Fifty Years of a Renewing Commonwealth". The Round Table 88 (350): 1–27. April 1999. doi:10.1080/003585399108072.
- The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 (Commencement) Order, 1949
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