The results of the referendum held in Britain to determine whether or not it should remain in or leave the European Union (EU), has been won by voters who supported the leave option. Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to resolve the opposition within the Conservative Party to membership of the European Union by way of a referendum, when there was no national demand for it. Cameron gambled the entire future of Great Britain. He and the British people lost instead. Speculation is now rife as to the future of the EU.
The British economy is expected to be severely dislocated and damaged. Predictions are that economic growth will plummet and that the economy will contract. Britain will lose at one fell swoop the privileged access to the large European internal market for its goods and services. Access will also be lost to the fifty or so markets with which the EU has trade agreements. A range of industries from health to automotive will feel the negative impact. Britain’s pre-eminence as a financial centre is likely to be lost. While some of these negative effects will be overcome by negotiated agreements over time, including of necessity with the Caribbean Community, it is the uncertainties that will be damaging. These uncertainties are being reflected in the billions lost in financial markets and currency depreciation on Friday.
Britain anchored its future to Europe in 1973 when it joined the European Economic Community (EEC). Since then Britain has become increasingly enmeshed in the EEC’s complex rules, encompassing an ever wider range of economic and political matters as they developed, leading to the EU, into which the EEC transitioned in 1993. From then and increasingly after, Britain signed on to the growing European project, including open borders, without taking the British people along. Some were no doubt swayed by vicious, mendacious and racist, rightwing, propaganda against immigration and immigrants, which no doubt helped to tip the scales in favour of the ‘Leave’ vote. With its anchor dislodged from Europe, Britain has now lost its coherent place in the world and will be floundering in an international no-man’s-land for years to come. The possibility of a break-up of Britain into two separate countries, England and Scotland, now loom large.
The pain, trauma and misery which have been caused by the economic crisis since 2008 and which have devastated homes, economies and lives across many countries in the West, including Britain and the US, have speeded up the economic inequality which started with neoliberalism and the Reagan-Thatcher dominance in the 1970s and has been growing ever since. The economic decline and devastation of social services caused by austerity measures in Britain under Cameron, have provided fertile ground for right wing propaganda of intolerance, insularity and xenophobia against the mythical enemy, the immigrant. This campaign in Britain took hold and many ordinary British voters were misled by it. The complacency demonstrated by British politicians supporting the ‘Remain’ vote, if repeated by US politicians in the US presidential campaign, where Donald Trump is the likely official candidate of the Republican Party, will result in a disaster of international magnitude.
Our own Caricom project has stalled on the issue of free movement. We have gone only as far as free movement of professionals. Within the Caricom Community some countries fear that unrestricted migration will harm their economies and create social problems. Among these countries are Barbados and Trinidad. Their restrictive entry conditions have cause friction with many countries, particularly Jamaica and Guyana, many of whose residents take the opportunity to work illegally in these countries. These difficulties gave rise in the Shanique Myrie Case in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in which it ruled that under the Caricom Treaty, Caricom countries cannot deny entry to citizens unless stringent conditions are satisfied. Both Trinidad and Barbados violate the decision every day and tensions between them and Jamaica and Guyana continue and flare up from time to time.
Strains also exist between Caricom countries because of uneven development. Poorer Caricom members felt insulted when former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persaud-Bissessar remarked early in her term that Trinidad is not an ATM machine for other Caricom countries. Jamaica, never historically comfortable with the concept of Caribbean unity, has declared that it needs to investigate the benefits that countries are receiving as a result of their membership in Caricom. Jamaica believes that Trinidad is either getting or taking unfair advantages. The refusal of most Caricom countries to sign on to the Caribbean Court of Justice, having initially agreed to its establishment, is a symptom of underlying difficulties.
The Caribbean Community is the second oldest ‘community’ after the EC. In the latter, it is the internal strains and pressures and the failure over decades to inform the British people of the value and benefits of the European Community that have resulted in this disaster.
Unless Caricom countries find ways not only to make Caricom’s benefits real but to continuously inform the public of the great advantages and benefits that the Caribbean Community brings to its members, it must not be surprised if its survival is later threatened.