1945 to present day


The Em­pire be­gan its steady de­cline in the wake of the two world wars, which had left Bri­tain sig­nif­i­cantly weak­ened eco­nom­i­cally. In­dian in­de­pen­dence in 1947 had sown the seeds for change and in the 1950s, wish­ing to avoid the colo­nial wars that France was fight­ing with Al­ge­ria, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment granted in­de­pen­dence to Su­dan, the Gold Coast and Malaysia. Many of Bri­tain’s colonies had al­ready be­come do­min­ions of Bri­tain by the time the Em­pire be­gan to de­cline. Canada be­came Bri­tain’s first do­min­ion, in 1867, fol­lowed by Aus­tralia in 1901 and New Zealand in 1907. These for­mer colonies were, in prin­ci­ple, still at­tached to the Bri­tish Crown, but were able to ex­er­cise cer­tain agreed rights. Most of Bri­tain’s Caribbean ter­ri­to­ries achieved their in­de­pen­dence over the next 20 years or so, with Bar­ba­dos leav­ing in 1966 and the re­main­der of the east­ern Caribbean is­lands in the 1970s and 1980s. For many, the fi­nal end to the Em­pire came in 1997, when Hong Kong be­came a spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China. In 1949, the vol­un­tary Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions was formed, ini­tially com­pris­ing eight in­de­pen­dent mem­ber states, of which most were for­mer ter­ri­to­ries of the Em­pire. To­day, the Com­mon­wealth is home to 2.4 bil­lion peo­ple from 52 coun­tries.

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