Imperial Commonwealth Federation

Flag of the Imperial Council and Secretariat of ICF (Official Flag of the ICF since 1940)

Flag of the United Kingdom (Used has Flag of the ICF 1924-1940)

Official language English
Capital London (England)
Head of state Monarch of the United Kingdom and Dominions
Head of government Chancellor of the Imperial Council
Type of government Constitutional Monarchy, Dominions, Colonies and Protectorates
Area n/a
Population 2 billion 562 million
Establishment 1930s
Currencies Pound sterling (UK and for international trade) and some Dominions have their own currency.

The Imperial Commonwealth Federation (ICF), former British Empire, comprises the United Kingdom and its dominions, protectorates and colonies.

Its origins are in the Imperial Conferences (Colonial Conferences before 1911), where the chiefs of governments of the United Kingdom and the Dominions meet to discuss on matters of common interest. The Statue of Westminster of 1924 established the ICF.

The road to establishing the ICF

The idea to establish an economic and political community of the British Empire arises in the late XIX Century. Groups like the Imperial Federation League created in London in 1884, aimed to promote an Imperial Federation. It called for a closer political union and alliance of the United Kingdom and the Dominions and advocated the establishment of an Imperial parliament to be composed of Britain and the self-governing members of the Empire. The said Imperial parliament, different from the British Parliament, would be the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, Dominions and colonies. It would also manage the affairs of the protectorates.

An economical union was advocated by Joseph Chamberlain, the most outspoken supporter of Tariff Reform and the Tariff Reform League (TRL) formed in 1903 as pressure group. The tariff reform called for the enactment of an Imperial Preference. It proposed a system of reciprocallylevelled tariffs or free trade agreements between different Dominions and Colonies within the British Commonwealth of Nations. The purpose of such practices was to promote the mutual prosperity, and thus, unity of allied imperial nations. While the idea of Imperial Preference is as old as colonialism itself, it:

  • was a practice that was not necessarily used all the time;
  • did not necessarily include every nation in the British Empire, and
  • did not necessarily apply to every commodity.

Conferences of British and colonial Prime Ministers had occurred periodically since 1887, leading to the creation of the Imperial Conferences in 1911. The formal organization of the Commonwealth developed from the Imperial Conferences, where the independence of the self-governing colonies and especially of dominions was recognized. After World War I (1915-1920), an Imperial Conference was called to establish a common front in the Paris Conference. The contribution to the war that the Dominions as also considered. Although the war had put a strain of the public finances of the UK, the Dominions where not willing to leave the protection of the UK. On this meeting it was issued the 'Dominions Statement' that acknowledges the political and diplomatic independence of the Dominions and recommends that the Governor-General, should no longer serve has representatives of the British Government in diplomatic relations between countries. The UK guaranteed the protection of the Dominions in exchange these would contribute to finance the royal navy and establish their own land and air forces in permanent basis. In the following years, High Commissioners, were appointed, with duties virtually identical to those of an ambassador. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by UK and the Dominions has independent parties to the treaty, which also added their membership to the League of Nations.

After the Irish Civil War (1920-1921) and the establishment of the Irish Free State (1922) it was included in its treaty and constitution the "adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations". This constitutional change and the Dominions' membership to the League of Nations made it necessary to call of an Imperial Conference. Its task would be to asses constitutional changes between UK and its Dominions. In 1923 it passed a resolution that would establish the Statue of Westminster (1924). The Statue established the independence of the Dominions and the Irish Free State, creating a group of equal members. It formalizes the relations between the UK and the Dominions and the relationship of the protectorates and colonies with the UK and Dominions. It creates an Imperial Council, chaired by the Prime Minister of the UK and integrated by the Prime Ministers (or their delegates) of the Dominions (senior members of the ICF). The purpose of the Imperial Council is to consult, advice and coordinate in foreign affairs, trade and defense and other matters of common interest. The agreed decisions become the official policies of the ICF and treaties among its members.

Developments after the Statue of Westminster

Marlborough House, Headquarters of Secretariat ICF, London UK

The British Empire Economic Conference of 1925 would suggest the formation of a zone of limited tariffs within the British Empire, but with high tariffs with the rest of the world. This was called "Imperial preference" or "Empire Free-Trade" (later Commonwealth Preference). This abandonment of open free trade led to a split in the British government and political parties. Liberals and conservatives divided into free traders and imperialists. The approval of the Import Duties Act of 1927 establish the Imperial preference system and the Imperial Trade Board in charge of its implementation.

Of symbolic importance and helping in creating common bonds are the British Empire Games and the Festival of the Empire. The idea of a sporting competition bringing together the members of the British Empire was first proposed by the Reverend Astley Cooper in 1891 when he wrote an article in The Times suggesting a "Pan-Britannic-Pan-Anglican Contest and Festival every four years as a means of increasing the goodwill and good understanding of the British Empire". In 1911, the Festival of the Empire was held in London to celebrate the coronation of King George V. As part of the festival an Inter-Empire Championships was held in which teams from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom competed in events such as boxing, wrestling, swimming and athletics. The second version of the Empire Festival was celebrated in 1928 and the first British Empire Games in 1930.

The Egyptian Crisis of 1931 jeopardized the Suez Canal. The joint operation of the Royal Navy and the regiments of the UK and the Dominions made it possible to control the uprising. Later participated in controlling the Arab Rebellion of Palestine of 1932. However both incidents showed grave problems of coordination, contradictory policies of the Dominions and lack of communication. To address this problems the Imperial Council decides to promote a defense pact among its members. The Commonwealth Defense Pact (1935), passed has international treaty and approved by the parliaments of the UK and Dominions, established the Commonwealth Defense Board. In peace times it is the defense planning agency that coordinates, standardizes and advises on the strategic necessities of the ICF. In wartime it acts has the executive arm of the Imperial War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, integrated by the First Sea Lord, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the Chief of the Air Staff.

Flag of the Secretariat of ICF

In 1935 it was established a Secretariat of the ICF to help the tasks of the Imperial Council. Its main function is policy planning and advisory to the Imperial Council in matters refer to it. It is the main intergovernmental agency, facilitating consultation and cooperation among member governments and countries. It administered the Imperial Festival and British Empire Games until the creation of the British Empire Games Federation and the Imperial Commonwealth Arts and Science Council.

Sterling Area

The British Pound sterling (£) was until the beginning of World War I the chief currency of international trade, along the French franc. After 1920, the US dollar and Japanese yen became important currencies. Post war debts, mostly to the United States introduced a modified gold standard.

However, the Wall Street Crash of 1930 forced the UK to abandon the gold standard. In the need to re-establish the economies and encourage trade between ICF members, the Imperial Trade Board and Bank of England agreed to a series of decisions that would establish a Sterling Area. All ICF members would abandon the gold standard and peg their currencies to the Pound sterling and discourage exchange controls. With the exception of Canada and Newfoundland (due to its trade with the US), all other members were incorporated into the newly created Commonwealth Currency Board, chaired by the Bank of England. This body would be responsible of overseeing payments and exchange rates. Its members were the Central Banks of the Dominions and regional currency boards.

Thus, the Sterling Area was formed by the British Pound Sterling (£, managed by the Bank of England), Irish Pound (IR£, until 1931), Maltese Pound (M£), Australian Pound (A£), New Zealand Pound (NZ£), Fijian Pound (F£), British Indian rupee (BRs), Saint Helena Pound (SH£), South African Pound (SA£), East African shilling, Rhodesian Pound (R£), British West African Pound (BWA£), Falkland Islands Pound (FK£), British Honduras dollar, Guyanese dollar, West Indies Pound (WI£), West Indies dollar (WI$), Palestine Pound (P£), Gulf Dirham, Egyptian Pound (E£ or ج.م until 1932), Hong Kong dollar (under special regime), Straits dollar (under special regime) and Sarawak dollar

Members of the Imperial Commonwealth Federation

Imperial Commonwealth Federation (circa 1921)

  • Senior Member: UK and Dominions with home rule. De jure member of the Imperial Council.
  • Junior members: Territories that have some degree of autonomy. Foreign relations, defense, communications, treasury administered by the UK or Imperial Council. UK has reserved powers in order to keep internal peace and constitutional revision. Participate in the Imperial Council on issues of the Import Duties Act of 1927 and defense.
  • Crown colonies: Fully administered by the UK. In some cases, a legislative council advises the governor.
  • Protectorates: Foreign relations and defense administered by the UK. They receive financial help and have some degree of participation in the Import Duties Act of 1927.
  • Territories: Fully administered by the UK.


Europe (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) + Crown dependencies Senior member London 243,610
Flag of Ireland.svg Irish Free State Senior member (1922-1931) Dublin 13,843
Ulster banner.svg Northern Ireland Senior member Belfast 81,638
Flag of Malta (1923–1943).svg Malta Colony Valletta 316
Government Ensign of Gibraltar.svg Gibraltar Colony Gibraltar 7
Blue Ensign of Cyprus (1922).svg Cyprus Protectorate 1878-1914, Colony 1914-? united with Greece Nicosia 9,251

America and Atlantic Ocean

America and Atlantic Ocean (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Flag of Canada 1921.png Dominion of Canada Senior member Ottawa 9,579,458
Dominion of Newfoundland Red Ensign.svg Dominion of Newfoundland Senior member (incorporated to Canada in 1935) St. John's 405,212
Flag of the West Indies Federation.svg West Indies Federation Junior member Basseterre (Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla) 272,220
Flag of British Honduras.svg British Honduras, joined to West Indies Federation Junior member Belize City 22,966
Flag of British Guiana (1919-1955).png British Guiana, joined to West Indies Federation Junior member Georgetown 214,970
Flag of Bermuda 1910.png Bermuda Colony Hamilton 53
Flag of the Falkland Islands.svg Falkland Island Colony Stanley 12,173
Flag of Saint Helena (1874-1984).svg Saint Helena Territory (a) Jamestown 122
Flag of Ascension Island.svgAscension Island Territory (a) - 91
Flag of Tristan da Cunha.svgTristan da Cunha Territory (a) - 207
Flag of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.svgSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Territory (b) - 3,903
Flag of the Bahamas (1923-1953).png The Bahamas, combined in West Indies Federation Colony Nassau 13,878
Flag of Barbados 1885.png Barbados, combined in West Indies Federation Colony Bridgetown 431
Flag of Jamaica (1906-1957).svg Jamaica, combined in West Indies Federation Colony Kingston 10,991
Trinidad colonial 1889-1958.gif Trinidad and Tobago, combined in West Indies Federation Colony City of Port of Spain 5,131
Flag of the British Windward Islands (1903-1958).png British Windward Islands, combined in West Indies Federation Colony St George's 2,100
Flag of Leeward Islands 1871-1956.gif British Leeward Islands, combined in West Indies Federation Colony St John's 1,047

(a) Administered as British Overseas Territories of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
(b) Administered as British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI).

Western Asia

Western Asia (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Indiaflag.png Federation of India Colony (1858-1921), Junior member 1921, senior member 1932 New Delhi
British Ceylon flag.png Ceylon Colony Colombo 65,610
Flag of Sikkim (1914-1962).svg Sikkim Protectorate (incorporated to India 1932) Gangtok 7,096
Old State Flag of Maldives.svg Maldives Protectorate (incorporated to India 1922) Malé 3,903
Flag of Bhutan.svg Bhutan Protectorate (until 1932) Timphu 38,394
Flag of British Burma (1937-1948).svg Union of Burma Colony 1932 (Separated from India) Rangoon 676,578

Eastern Asia

Eastern Asia (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area (sq km) Population
Flag of the Federated Malay States (1895 - 1946).svg Malayan Union Junior member 1934 Kuala Lumpur 129,627
Flag of the Federated Malay States (1895 - 1946).svg Federated Malay States Protectorate (incorporated to Malayan Union 1934) Kuala Lumpur

Unfederated Malay States (Flag of Johor.svg Johor, Flag of Kedah.svg Kedah, Flag of Kelantan.svg Kelantan, Flag of Perlis.svg Perlis, and Flag of Terengganu.svg Terengganu)

Protectorate (incorporated to Malayan Union 1934) -
Flag of Brunei 1906-1959.svg Sultanate of Brunei Protectorate Bandar Brunei 5,765
Flag of the Kingdom of Sarawak (1870).svg Kingdom of Sarawak Protectorate Kuching 124,450
Flag of North Borneo.svg British North Borneo Colony (includes Lebuan since 1934) Sandakan 76,115
Flag of Hong Kong (1959–1997).svg Hong Kong Colony Hong Kong 1,104
Flag of the British Straits Settlements (1874-1942).svg Straits Settlements (Singapore, Malacca, Penang and Dinding) Colony Singapore 4,480
Flag of the Shanghai International Settlement.svg Shanghai International Settlement Concession (Since 1862 US-UK concessions with autonomous local government) Shanghai 22.6
Flag of British Weihaiwei.png Weihaiwei (a) Leased territory (1898-1930, 1930-1940) Port Edward 750
Tientsin British Concession (a) Concession (1862-1925, became part of Tientsin International Settlement) 373
Shamian Island in Guangzhou (a) Concession (1861-) 30
Hankow British Concession (a) Concession (1862-1925 became part of Hankow International Free Port) 46,5

(a) See Representative Committee of Foreign Concessions in China


Africa (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Union of South Africa (alternative flag).png Union of South Africa Senior Member Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial) 1,221,037 (1910-1920), 2,046,455 (1920 to date)
Flag of Egypt (1922–1958).svg Kingdom of Egypt Protectorate until 1932, gained independence Cairo 1,002,450
Flag of Botswana.svg Bechuanaland Protectorate Protectorate (a) Mafeking (In South Africa, 1920-1930), and Gaborone (1930 to date) 581,730
Flag of Swaziland 1894.svg Kingdom of Swaziland Protectorate (a) Mbabane 17,364
Somaliland Brit.gif British Somaliland Protectorate Berbera 137,600
Flag of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.svg Sultanate of Zanzibar Protectorate Zanzibar City 2,650
North Sudan Colony (1932-1932, joined Egypt) Khartoum 1,886,068
South Sudan Colony (1932-1932, joined British East Africa) Juba 619,745
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Flag of Egypt (1922–1958).svg Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Anglo-Egyptian condominium (1899-1932), divided in North and South Sudan (1932) Khartoum 2,505813
Flag of British West Africa (TNE).png British West Africa (Sierra Leona + Gambia + British Gold Coast) Colony Freetown 320.655
Flag of British Colonial Nigeria.svg British Nigeria Colony Lagos 923,768
Flag of British East Africa.svg British East Africa (Kenya + Uganda + Tanganyika Territory + South Sudan) Colony Nairobi 1.813.139
Flag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.svg British Central Africa or Rhodesia-Nyasaland (Northern Rhodesia + Southern Rhodesia + Nyasaland Protectorate) Colony Salisbury 1.261.559
Unofficial Basutoland Ensign.svg Territory of Basutoland Colony (a) Maseru 30,355
Flag of Mauritius 1923.svg Mauritius Colony Port Louis 2,040
Seychellsbrit.gif Seychelles Colony Victoria 451
Alternative Flag British Suez Canal zone.png Suez Canal Zone Territory Port Said

(a) High Commission Territories, under the political responsibility and administration of the High Commissioner for Southern Africa. Its office is separate from the one of Governor-General of South Africa.

Middle East

Middle East (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Federation Gulf States.png Federation of Gulf States Protectorate (established in 1935). Manama (Bahrain) 423,107
Flag of the Trucial States.svg Trucial States (also known as Trucial Oman, Trucial Coast, and Trucial Sheikhdoms) - incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935. Protectorate (a) Dubai
Flag of Bahrain.svg Bahrain, incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935. Protectorate (a) Manama
Flag of Kuwait (1915-1956).svg State of Kuwait incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935, Protectorate (a) Kuwait City
Flag of Qatar.svg State of Qatar, incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1935. Protectorate (a) Doha
Flag of Oman.svg Muscat and Oman incorporated to Gulf Federation in 1936. Protectorate (a) Muscat
Flag of the Colony of Aden.svg Aden Colony and Protectorate, reorganized in 1935 has Federation of South Arabia Colony and Protectorate Aden 332,970

(a) Administered by the British residency of the Persian Gulf at Bahrain.

Oceania, Pacific and Antarctic territories

Oceania, Pacific and Antarctic territories (Dominion/Territory/Colony) Status Capital Area Population
Flag of Australia.svg Commonwealth of Australia Senior member Canberra 7,692,024
Flag of New Zealand.svg Dominion of New Zealand Senior member Wellington 268,021
Flag of Melanesian Territories ICF (TNE).png Melanesian Territories (Papua, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago and Solomon I.) Colony administered by Australia Port Moresby 491,290
Flag of Fiji 1924-1970.svg Fiji Colony Suva 18,274
Flag of Fiji 1924-1970.svg / Gilbert and Ellice Islands.png British Western Pacific Territories (Gilbert Islands, Ellice islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Pitcairn Islands, Solomon Islands, Savage Island (Niue), Phoenix Islands, Line Islands, Tonga, and Union Islands). In the 1930s Fiji and Solomon Islands were separated. Protectorates, colonies and territories (a) Suva (until 1930s), Tarawa 48,841  (until 1930s) / 2,121
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Flag of France.svg New Hebrides or Vanuatu Anglo-French condominium. Port Vila 12,190
Flag of the Territory of Papua.svg Territory of Papua. Joined to Melanesian Territories Colony administered by Australia. Port Moresby 231,350
Flag of the Territory of New Guinea.svg Territory of New Guinea (includes Bismarck Archipelago). Joined to Melanesian Territories Colony administered by Australia. Rabaul
Flag of British Antarctica.png British Antarctic Territory Territory London 1.709,400

(a) High Commissioner of BWPT also Governor of Fiji, in the 1930s post moved to Governor of Gilbert and Elice Islands.

Also see

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.