There will be few tears in Britain as the Union flag is lowered in Hong Kong. There is little nostalgia, few expressions of regret in the broadsheets. End of empire? No, that was long ago. True, the sun may in strict terms never set on the collection of islands which make up the remnants of 300 years of colonial adventure but the empire and the collective emotions that went with it is long gone. George VI could in 1947 call himself emperor of India, king of all the dominions, as Australia, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa and New Zealand were then called, and ruler of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma and what is now Malaysia and Singapore. Then there was Africa - Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, the Gambia, Swaziland and the territories now known as Ghana, Malawi, Botswana, Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the West Indies and Central and South American colonies that are now Guyana and Belize. Add to those the various condominiums, protectorates and mandates and not one region in the world was untouched by the British Empire. Nonetheless, in terms of saying goodbye to empire as part of a national psyche, then Britain did that years ago. There was more concern over the bloody independence war against the illegal white regime in Rhodesia - later Zimbabwe - than there has been over Hong Kong. Jewel in the crown? Well, was not the real jewel India, which received independence on August 15, 1947, and which was the pride of Queen Victoria, and one of many sectors of empire that paid tribute to her at her diamond jubilee in 1897? It would be wrong to suggest ethnicity did not come into the lack of nostalgia in Britain today. Most Britons are emotionally neutral at seeing principally Chinese Hong Kong re-absorbed by China. As Dr Peter Lyon of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, puts it: 'Hong Kong has not been a piece of transplanted Britain in the way the Falkland Islands were like a transplanted Shetland Islands.' Nor were the majority of its people of English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish descent like the earlier colonies of Canada and Australia. And unlike the rest of the empire, Hong Kong was never going to achieve independence although in recent decades its government was given more independence than most colonial governments were ever allowed. Britain is certainly saying goodbye on one level to the largest of its remaining colonies today, reducing the population of the remaining empire by about 97 per cent, according to one estimate. There will be just 180,000 people in 14 British Dependent Territories left around the world after the handover. The largest is the 412,500 square kilometres of the British Antarctic Territory. Smallest? Pitcairn Island, deep in the Pacific Ocean, with just 55 souls. Hong Kong has been run at a profit; certainly it has not been a net drain on the British taxpayer. That contrasts markedly with the rest of the empire. British aid to the rest of the collection since the start of this decade has amounted to GBP153 million (about HK$1.9 billion), although much of it was spent in Britain on consultants and the like. The cost of Hong Kong in future to Britain? According to the National Audit Office that amounts to GBP130 million in pension payments to pensioned off British public servants. Nobody seems to have quantified the net cost to Britain of running the Joint Liaison Group - or the net benefit of having trading links both directly with Hong Kong and China or through the presence of 200,000 largely entrepreneurial Hong Kong Chinese in Britain. Britain has long ago seen the demise of the real economic links with empire: the industries founded on colonies. The cotton and textile mills of the northwest of England, set up during the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries to turn colonial cotton harvests into cloth, closed from the late 1950s. Of course all other remnants of empire can join the Commonwealth, no longer the British Commonwealth and since 1965 an organisation without a permanent British chairmanship. Hong Kong cannot, although Chief Emeka Anyaoku, secretary-general of the 51-state group, has made clear he wants to see continuing links. The Basic Law may prohibit political connections but that is not the same as barring other non-governmental organisations talking to each other. The irony is that other states with minimal links to Britain are pressing to join the Commonwealth. Mozambique, never a British colony, has joined. The English-speaking Tutsi elite of Rwanda is applying, to the anger of the largely Francophone Hutus. The Palestinians have indicated they may apply to join, if and when they become a sovereign state. Fiji, suspended after the 1987 coup there, has approached Commonwealth officials about rejoining and also about abandoning its status as a republic and, uniquely, petitioning the Queen to re-assume her role as monarch. Britain's colonial legacy has moved on. The Commonwealth is often cited now as a new, neutral body of countries independent of Britain in a way the former colonies of France have rarely been. As France sees the Francophone influence in Africa retreating, so the Commonwealth is growing in strength. Dr Andrew Porter, Rhodes chair of history at London University, believes the Commonwealth has helped Britain come to terms with its decline as a great power. 'It is difficult to think of any other empire which has left this kind of international organisation behind it,' he says. 'There are a significant number of really very tiny island colonies left, too small or with too tiny a population or simply too poor to manage their affairs or independence without external aid. They are not something that figure in most people's calculations these days.' Dr Porter says that in that sense Hong Kong, with its dynamic economy, has been an aberration in recent British colonial history. Britain still retains a presence in the world, and punches above its weight in the words of several politicians, on the basis of that colonial past, particularly through having a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. 'It is an historical legacy from the time when Britain was seen as one of the last powers at the end of World War II. There is a significant debate going on as to whether Britain should retain that seat,' Dr Porter says. Of course Britain retains aspects of its colonial past - including that UN seat - when it is expedient to do so. Likewise, it was expedient to let Hong Kong revert to China, because China wanted it back. Smaller powers have a harder time of it. The Falklands and Gibraltar remain festering imperialist sores for Argentina and Spain, remnants of an empire largely forgotten in Britain today.