Britain’s divorce a sign of sovereign insecurity

Britain’s divorce a sign of sovereign insecurity
“Remain” supporters gather on Park Lane in London, before marching to Parliament Square to show their support for the European Union in the wake of the referendum decision for Britain to leave the EU, known as “Brexit”, Saturday July 2, 2016.
Daniel Leal-Olivas / PA via Associated Press

It’s interesting to see how one of Europe’s architects of colonization recently trod a similar path some of their colonized possessions maneuvered when in the last century they voted to be independent.

In a recent referendum, a majority of Britons voted independence from the European Union.

Last week, by a 52-48 margin Brits voted to leave the EU.

Regarded as a rise in right-wing populism, the votes are perceived to be in response to patriotism, disenfranchisement with foreigners, convergence of migrants and unfair trade practices.

Race and class have also been cited as contributors to the votes of dissociation.

Formerly a powerful empire attributed to rich acquisitions forged in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean — the once Great Britain voted to secede from the EU coining a new addition to the English language lexicon and a catchy contraction which is and will be referred to as Brexit.

Revered as the jewel in the EU crown, England and its voters decided to opt out of unification with their allies in the region.

And while that majority is now jumping for joy with optimism of a new-found opportunity of independence and a mantra of pride akin to Donald Trump’s “Make America great Again” campaign slogan, the deafening dissent against defection is what seems to be getting all the media attention.

The divergent opinions are not dissimilar to the prevailing politics that echoed throughout the Caribbean in the early 1960s when citizens were faced with deciding for or against a federation of neighboring countries.

It took a referendum from each of the bordered nations and Jamaicans were first to say they wanted out — to stand alone from the group, free of British and royal dictates.

The fear of uncertainty, self rule, trade arrangements, tourism, and economic and military, vulnerability and a myriad of other concerns prevailed then but the tiny, fragile yet determined gem in the Caribbean had taken note from a distance underlining how India in 1947 and a decade later Ghana, Africa had led the charge to deciding their fate and agreed it to be a worthy challenge to risk.

Ghana, formerly known as the gold coast was a major loss to the British cache of wealth and power. And that Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia followed the lead of their black star neighbor a trend to independence proved a huge deficit for the once-powerful empire.

India was certainly a jewel in the crown, perhaps the biggest providing more than a Hope diamond after South Africa’s split from Britain on May 1910 and Egypt in 1922.

However, the persevering and relentless desire to true democracy, self-governance and independence now dictates policy and responsibility to flags — other than the Union Jack — that identify people and places willing to decide their own destiny.

Since the recent vote, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his decision to step away from leadership from the Conservative Party and the British parliament in October.

Apparently that decision caused a ripple that reverberated here briefly on the NY Stock Exchange.

It also registered with national elections pending in November and the dominant neo-Nazi, hate rhetoric passing from patriotism.

Throughout the Caribbean citizens anxious and nervous about the impact the vote will have on their economies seem to be embracing the topic with caution.

That an Africa Union and a Caribbean union known as CARICOM unites geographical groupings of African and Caribbean nations, Brexit seem a latent response to European union and one counter to the prevailing opinions prior to 2016.

Allegedly, remorse from voters clueless as to what their decision meant when they voted secession and that their vote could prove a financial calamity for their sovereign nation is now a proposition for a recall of the referendum and fodder for more discussion.

In a published report from Brussels, Belgium, Dr. Patrick I. Gomes, secretary general of the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group, said the implications of Britain’s decision to leave the 43-year-old EU could be far-reaching on the ACP and may give rise to many consequences for trade, services, investments and development finance assistance.

The Guyana-born Gomes in a statement said in each of the areas, the ACP-UK relations have been longstanding and mutually beneficial, not only for Caribbean countries, but for the ACP Group as a whole.

He noted for instance that as a contributor of at least 17 per cent to the European Development Fund (EDF), the UK has been consistent in its support and has argued in favor of making the European Development Fund (EDF) less cumbersome in its regulations.

“With the UK outside of the EDF Committee the ACP will lose an ally of great value,” Gomes said, adding “beyond development financial assistance, the area of greatest concern for Caribbean countries will be in trade in goods and services, investment and technology development and transfer with the preferential arrangements provided under the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA), signed in 2000, revised in 2005 and 2010 but coming to an end in 2020.”

He said also the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) signed in 2008 has indefinite provisions for duty free, quota free trade and the provision of services under preferential conditions.

Gomes said despite the relatively slow pace of implementation of the EPA, a basic question that will be posed by the ACP Group to the UK is the extent to which they will continue to honor the provisions and obligations of the EPA.

“This is an area that will call for tough negotiations by the ACP Group and will be clearly linked to what concessions come out of the “divorce settlement” between the UK and the EU,” he added.

The negotiations are expected to last up to two years after the UK has formally notified the EU of its intention to withdraw from the Union.

“While all this means there is some time before the ACP will know what are the substantive areas in the “divorce agreement” of the UK and EU, the ACP Group is setting about pre-emptive actions and will adopt a multi-pronged strategy with a view to securing interests of the ACP member states, as best as possible under the favorable provisions in Cotonou and the EPAs, as well as in the case of Haiti and other LDCs, the provisions of the Everything-But-Arms (EBA) Agreement.

“This allows duty free / quota free trade with Europe in all goods except military arms and equipment,” the ACP secretary general said.

Pre-emptive measures include detailed analytical work on the volume and value of exports to the UK market by ACP countries and for what commodities; along with regulatory requirements of health and safety standards for specific commodities.

“Any such data analysis on which to base our negotiating positions must draw on support of the private sector who are mainly the exporters, in collaboration with commercial representations in the UK,” Gomes said.

He said such a strategy will require coordination of efforts at national levels and in the regional organizations, in this case CARICOM and CARIFORUM along with parliamentary representatives.

“The latter will be encouraged to invite their counterparts to raise questions in the UK Parliament pointing to the importance and value of trade in goods and services between the ACP countries and UK,” he added.

Gomes said while the waiting period of formal notification to the EU by the UK and subsequent negotiations proceed, the ACP Group will pursue a positive approach that will seek to strengthen mutually beneficial relations with both the EU and the UK.

The implication of Brexit on the Caribbean — more than 50 years after independence — is already being diagnosed with varying predictions of negatives and positives to the region’s economies.

A few things are certain — sovereignty is never permanent, humans are unpredictable and change is constant.

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