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.