Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General Designate of the Commonwealth, speaks during the opening session of a Public Lecture on Nigeria and the commonwealth of Nations in Abuja, Nigeria February 18, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde(reuters_tickers)
By William James
LONDON (Reuters) - Campaigners who say Commonwealth ties should replace links with the European Union are offering voters a false choice ahead of Britain's June 23 EU referendum, Patricia Scotland, the newly appointed Commonwealth Secretary-General, said on Monday.
Some of those pushing for an exit from the EU have backed the 53-country Commonwealth, whose members are mostly former British colonies and represent 2.2 billion people across the world, as an alternative trading network to the EU that would help Britain prosper.
"I say the Commonwealth offers a huge amount, but the Commonwealth does not set itself up in competition with Europe - we are partners," Scotland told Reuters in an interview following her inauguration as head of the Commonwealth secretariat at a ceremony in London.
"As far as I can see, partnership is a much better way forward than separation for any of us," she said, when asked to respond to those who say the Commonwealth could replace the EU.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth is head of the Commonwealth. Scotland, a member of parliament's upper house and former government minister, will run the Commonwealth's administrative body.
Her comments come as an evenly divided British electorate prepares to vote on whether Britain should remain a member of the 28-country European Union, or leave and seek to carve out a new role for itself in global politics and trade.
The UK Independence Party, which wants Britain to leave the EU, last month described the Commonwealth as a "huge potential asset" and said it would have a crucial role in the country's future prosperity outside the EU.
But Scotland said that was a false choice.
"I don't think you substitute one for another... It can't be 'either/or' - it has to be 'and, and, and'," she said.
The Commonwealth as an organisation would not get involved in the final few months of the campaign, she said, and had no unified position on whether Britain should stay or go, but she added that she had not detected an appetite for Britain to sever its ties with the EU.
"Commonwealth is not diminished in any way by Britain's current position and ... I haven't heard any Commonwealth country say they have an appetite for change," she said.
(Editing by Stephen Addison)