Heywood announces creation of cross-Whitehall Commonwealth Unit

Team that delivered the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will continue to exist to support Theresa May as chair in office

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in London in April. Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA 

By Tamsin.Rutter

07 Jun 2018

The civil service has created a cross-government Commonwealth Unit to be led by a director and Commonwealth envoy.

The cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood announced the unit in a blogpost this week about the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in London from 16 to 20 April.

The unit, led by chief executive Tim Hitchens and based in the Cabinet Office, was set up to deliver CHOGM 2018, but will continue to exist to support Theresa May as chair in office of the Commonwealth, a role which the UK took over from Malta in April.

It will deliver the policies announced by the prime minister during the summit, and also lead on reforms to the Commonwealth Secretariat.


Heywood wrote: “Following the summit, the UK’s dedication to this global agenda has resulted in the creation of a cross-Whitehall Commonwealth Unit led by a director and Commonwealth envoy. 

“This unit will to be responsible for the fulfilment of summit commitments over the next two years while the UK, in the person of the prime minister, is chair in office of the Commonwealth.”

The civil service head praised the “truly collaborative effort” of volunteers from across government who supported last month’s summit, which he described as the UK’s “biggest ever”.

At the end of the summit the network of 53 countries agreed to a Commonwealth Blue Charter, aimed at developing marine economies and protecting our oceans.

Heywood also outlined the policy announcements made by several government departments, including on tackling plastics in the oceans, helping small and vulnerable states, cyber security, improving election monitoring guidance, ensuring an equal voice for minority groups, and tackling trade barriers.

The new cross-Whitehall unit will be tasked with delivering the policies announced at the summit. It will also be responsible for reforming the Commonwealth secretariat “so that its governance, leadership and finance arrangements ensure the Commonwealth can be an effective and efficient international organisation in the 21st century”, Heywood said.

Hitchens joined the Cabinet Office to lead the cross-Whitehall team from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, most recently as ambassador to Japan.

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