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Britain exit the EU? What about Caricom?

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, April 04, 2014    

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A week ago Britain had its first media debate on the European Union (EU) "to leave or to stay?" Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), were up. Britain takes umbrage at its loss of freedom as "European law has supremacy over all domestic sources of law". The EU is the model for Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), so watch out. CSME is not transparent, they remove our freedom, they only talk to ministers, and no one talks to us. Does CSME solve the problem of small uneconomic markets? poverty? remote members? We need an inquiry. Does the contractor general have jurisdiction over CSME? Follow our money, Mr Harrison. These neo-colonials have us by the balls even in independence.

We could have prospered in the last 50 years but our leaders made much of Caricom's micro market and denatured our Independence. Their market is zip to us. We squandered assets, lived on credit, addicted to debt. We see floaters and think them oases, yet Caricom is not the cause of our distress — we are. Thids is because we will not take charge of our country and make it prosper.

The British probe the EU while our Cabinet is silent on CSME, yet we know a union of far-flung islands has no precedent. How has CSME benefited us? How will it? Economic Union is not language, law or culture but markets, logistics, products, financial return. CSME ticks none of these boxes and the notions of our "old boys" who enjoyed the fleshpots of London and drank the "kool aid" still trap us. Our leaders had no financial acumen, their vision was anti-British politics. Prosperity is not absence of imperialists, but presence of markets, capital, entrepreneurs, workers, can do spirit. Our future is not in CSME.

We were the anomaly in West Indies Federation. Busta was a man of the world and saw it. We do not fit CSME either, but flatter us, call us "President" and we roll over. As we are relatively large with cachet CSME wants our brand, our feisty spirit, our location next to the USA, and our size gives small members a good market. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States works for decades and does not include us. They are many, neighbours and the core of CSME. Our Cabinet did not promote union with neighbours, just a long-distance affair with no economic benefit and it sidelines our prosperity.

Norman Manley lost a referendum, and since then politicians have been afraid to give us a vote. Their egos trump our needs. Bustamante took the right stand on Federation, but for the wrong reason; the old guard PNP may not rethink CSME as its emotional investment is huge. Does Andrew Holness have the guts to call for an inquiry into CSME? young MPs? What of the academy? UWI is not a product of Caricom, but are its experts complicit in this mirage? What accounts for the intellectual frigidity of UTech? Is NCU too heavenly minded to defend this land? The Tivoli enquiry is good, but we know the result. A commission on CSME might save us billions and lift our spirits. Of three politicians under 50, one was clueless about CSME, two had visited the EC, and all were wary of union with faraway small states. They were shocked that no feasibility was done, but none would raise it in Parliament. Why? Have the lunatics taken over the asylum? All agreed that an Antilles SME with neighbours was okay as language did not stop Britain being top exporter into the multilingual EU; and as some local firms trade in 30 countries we know that price, logistics, and quality drive trade, not language.

CSME tries to reprise the Federation scuttled by Bustamante. We are still not forgiven for having left. In 1946, Churchill said: "We must build a kind of United States of Europe", but Britain did not join in 1957, 1967, until 1973, and had a referendum. Britain is a small island with a unique sense of self — so like us. It led Europe and the world for three centuries, so it's not easy for them to join a line. Not easy for us either as monarchs of sprint and dancehall. They joined the EU for economic benefits after the coal, steel and atomic energy uplift of the 50s. They hedged their bets; got an "opt out" of the Euro in 1991 and of "social policy, monetary and economic union" in 1993. Did Cabinet see CSME as the United States of the Caribbean? The UK went into the EU for economic gains we went into CSME for what? Our leaders bought the puss and the bag — all sentiment — no financial due diligence, no referendum and no "opt out" negotiated. I love Jamaica, but we are so naïve. God laughs, as before the ink dried the WTO made supra national unions irrelevant by ending trade preference. The USSR dissolved painfully and Britain, our oldest Federation, may end if Scotland votes to leave next month — and the Irish are not far behind. We need an independent appraisal of CSME, ASAP.

In the March 26 national debate "to leave or not to leave" Nick Clegg is a Europhile; Nigel Farage is Eurosceptic. Neither Manley nor Bustamante had this geo politics savvy. But in 2014 — retarded in health, education, housing, food, now in IMF receivership — we need to review CSME. The result of the EU debate as per YouGov polls were 50 per cent plus for Mr Farage, to leave the EU, and 30 per cent plus for Mr Clegg. Farage was passionate and connected; Clegg burdened with data. The EU ticks all boxes but the British are like us — island folk addicted to freedom. They travel from London to any EU nation by air, sea or tunnel. A tunnel in our Antilles Union from here to the Dom Rep and then on to Cuba and Puerto Rico is doable, but one to Trinidad is lunacy. Our future is with the Antilles.

The UK is a rich country; we are "pisspoor". It pays £55m a day to the EU and get's back 60 per cent in farm subsidy. Do we pay CSME? Get farm subsidy? Is CSME debt in our fiscal space? Nick Clegg said "I want us to be Great Britain, not little England," and I say "Jamaica first!" The debate was dignified, data driven. They flipped a coin. Farage won, asked Clegg to open. The audience piled on questions. Clegg said they were already in the EU and did not need a referendum. Farage opened: "If you were asked to join the EU today, would you?" He cited the high fee, rights ceded to Brussels, impact of open borders on lifestyle, intrusive laws, eroded Commonwealth links, and loss of sovereignty. The EU was formed by men cowed by Europe's wars and post-war poverty. That's not us. We love war, chopping off heads. We have energy, creativity, no fear! CSME has no safety net, so let's cast ours and catch our own fish. Britain has "opt outs" but may become like Switzerland who have all the benefits yet are not EU members and can sign free trade agreements at will. We can run our own country. A "single economic space" with distant EC islands is like flight MH 370 in the Indian ocean — lost!

Mr CSME, our "single economic vision" is with our neighbours — just like the distant OECS states do; even with no tunnel to Cuba we can prosper an Antilles Union. Caricom's (UWI?) economists jester with our lives, so let us pray: "Lord teach me a smart way to make a union, I now know all the dumb ones." Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. Comments: franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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