London Declaration

The London Declaration was a declaration issued by the 1949 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference on the issue of India's continued membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of independent states formerly part of the British Empire, after India's transition to a republican constitution.

The Commonwealth Prime Ministers with the King at Buckingham Palace for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, 1949

Drafted by the Indian statesman V. K. Krishna Menon,[1] the declaration stated the agreement of the prime ministers to the continued membership of India in the organization after it becomes a republic. By that declaration, the Government of India had expressed its acceptance of the king as a symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and head of the Commonwealth.

The declaration dealt only with India, seen as an exceptional case, and it reaffirmed that the other members of the Commonwealth owed common allegiance to the Crown with an initial acceptance of the king as a head of the Commonwealth. However it did establish a precedent that republicanism is compatible with membership in the organization.[2]


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.[3]

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 two states—India and Ireland—to declare themselves republics.[4] At the meeting, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proposed a Ten Point Memorandum on the settlement between India and the Commonwealth.[5] 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.[4]

On 16 May 1949, during the Constituent Assembly Debates for the framing of a republican constitution, Nehru declared in the house that:

We join the Commonwealth obviously because we think it is beneficial to us and to certain causes in the world that we wish to advance. The other countries of the Commonwealth want us to remain there because they think it is beneficial to them. It is mutually understood that it is to the advantage of the nations in the Commonwealth and therefore they join. At the same time, it is made perfectly clear that each country is completely free to go its own way; it may be that they may go, sometimes go so far as to break away from the Commonwealth...Otherwise, apart from breaking the evil parts of the association, it is better to keep a co-operative association going which may do good in this world rather than break it.[6]

At the next conference, in April 1949, Nehru, seeking above all to avoid two-tiered membership,[4] 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.[4] This met general agreement, particularly with the new South African Prime Minister Daniel François Malan, and, over the next two days, the draft was crafted into a final agreement.[4] 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.[4]

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.[4] 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.[4] 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,[7] was bitterly opposed.[8] In the South African context, with which Smuts was mainly concerned, Republicanism was mainly identified with Afrikaner Conservatism and with tighter racial segregation [9] The London conference - concerned mainly with India and to some degree with Ireland, which recently declared itself a Republic - did not pay much attention for the implications for South Africa.

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,[10] ten days before the declaration, and therefore left the Commonwealth.


Text of the DeclarationEdit

The Governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon, whose countries are united as Members of the British Commonwealth of Nations and owe a common allegiance to the Crown, which is also the symbol of their free association, have considered the impending constitutional changes in India.

The Government of India have informed the other Governments of the Commonwealth of the intention of the Indian people that under the new constitution which is about to be adopted India shall become a sovereign independent republic. The Government of India have however 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.

The Governments of the other countries of the Commonwealth, the basis of whose membership of the Commonwealth is not hereby changed, accept and recognise India’s continuing membership in accordance with the terms of this declaration.

Accordingly the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Ceylon hereby declare that they remain united as free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.[11]


The London Declaration marked the birth of the modern Commonwealth of Nations.[3][4] Following the death of King George VI in 1952, the Commonwealth leaders recognised Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Brecher cites the negotiations that led to the creation of the modern Commonwealth, Page 20 in Brecher’s India and World Politics: Krishna Menon’s View of the World, Oxford University Press, London 1968.
  2. ^ "although it was asserted that the case of India depended upon its own special circumstances, it has inevitably been regarded as having established a precedent. Common allegiance could not, after the Prime Ministers' Declaration of April, 1949, be posited as a fundamental rule of the Commonwealth association, though it is conceived that recognition of the Queen as " Head of the Commonwealth " is, at least for the present, such a rule. The constitutional status of the Members of the Commonwealth other than India was not intended to be changed by the 1949 Declaration; and the words of 1926 and 1931, reciting their " common allegiance to the Crown," were reaffirmed. S. A. de Smith, The Royal Styles and Titles, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, April 1953, p. 265. JSTOR 755789
  3. ^ a b de Smith, S.A. (July 1949). "The London Declaration of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, April 28, 1949". The Modern Law Review. 12 (3): 351–354. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1949.tb00131.x. JSTOR 1090506.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Marshall, Peter (April 1999). "Shaping the 'New Commonwealth', 1949". The Round Table. 88 (350): 185–197. doi:10.1080/003585399108108.
  5. ^ "Status of India in the Commonwealth". Documents on Canadian External Relations. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 6 June 2007. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2007.
  6. ^ "Constituent Assembly Debates (India)". Delhi: Parliament of India. 16 May 1949. Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  7. ^ Colville, Sir John (2004). The Fringes of Power. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 1-84212-626-1.
  8. ^ "1949–1999: Fifty Years of a Renewing Commonwealth". The Round Table. 88 (350): 1–27. April 1999. doi:10.1080/003585399108072.
  9. ^ Muller (1975), p. 508.
  10. ^ The Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 (Commencement) Order, 1949
  11. ^ London Declaration