Brexit: A shambolic affair

By Elizabeth Morgan

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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Last week, from all the breaking news at the national, regional and international levels, I chose to watch the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) World coverage of the Brexit debate and vote in the British Parliament.

In my reflections on the nearly three days of debate, I thought that one very British word described the whole affair. It was “shambolic”. This colloquial expression means chaotic, muddled, confused. The British parliamentary proceedings were painful to watch. I have been convinced since 2016 that were William Shakespeare around today he would be penning a play — I am not sure whether comedy or tragedy. Someone must be working on a play or film script, as all the elements of good drama are present. The soothsayer's warning in this play should be, “Beware the referendum in June!”

It is evident to me that many in Britain who voted to leave the European Union (EU) knew little about it and the extent to which it impacted their lives during Britain's membership. I see some parallels with the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in which many people in member states feel little affinity to the regional process. The people must understand why regional integration matters, and thus ongoing public education is important.

In Britain, there are the hardliners who just want to leave the EU at any cost, but there are ordinary people who, it seems, just voted on parochial issues in ignorance of the role of the EU, seen as that place with those people over there. They listened to the hard-line 'leave' rhetoric from a man, Nigel Farage, leading a marginal party — the Euro-sceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — who never managed to win a seat in any British election, except as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the EU, which he despises. They also listened to an overly ambitious Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), Boris Johnson, seeking to grasp the party leadership and become prime minister. Some of us know what political ambition cost Macbeth.

There were also those with visions of imperial revival — a new Commonwealth. The Opposition Labour Party sent mixed messages and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was lukewarm. More than two years on, the British have a shambolic Brexit process.

Now, in the British Parliament, Members want to honour the 2016 referendum result, the choice of the people, and so they want Britain to leave, but not without a deal. Suddenly, they recognise how economically intertwined they are with the EU. The problem is they cannot agree on what the deal should be. MPs twice overwhelmingly rejected the one which Prime Minister Theresa May hammered out with the EU. The parliamentarians did vote to request an extension of the Article 50 deadline, March 29, for their exit from the EU.

The EU Members now have to agree to this extension. A general view is that the EU 27 want Britain to make a definitive decision — leave or remain — but do it quickly, allowing them to get on with their lives. They have problems aplenty to occupy their time, if they are to keep the union from completely disintegrating and further strengthen it.

For us in the Caribbean, I gather that the Caribbean ACP Forum (CARIFORUM) will be having its council of ministers meeting this week in St Lucia, March 21-22. It was postponed in November 2018. At this meeting, CARIFORUM ministers are expected to discuss Brexit and sign off on the CARIFORUM/UK roll-over or continuity agreement.

The UK signed another continuity agreement, the UK/Pacific Agreement, on March 14, 2019 with Fiji and Papua New Guinea. It is reported that if the UK had to leave the EU without deal they were contemplating reducing most of their tariffs to zero. This would mean that the value of continuity agreements in goods would be diminished.

News reports also indicate that the Caribbean British Dependent Territories continue to be concerned about policy pronouncements coming out of London. They must also be uneasy about the blacklist of tax havens recently published by the EU which includes Caribbean countries.

This will be another interesting week watching developments in Brussels and London to see how the EU will respond to Britain's request for an extension and what the British will be doing about a new deal.

Here, in the Caribbean, we should be watching developments in St Lucia at the CARIFORUM meeting. On the agenda should also be the ACP/EU post-Cotonou negotiations, which formally resumed in February. Of course, this will depend on the press coverage this ministerial meeting will receive. As I have noted before, many of our foreign affairs issues do not generate strong interest here unless there is unanticipated political or diplomatic fallout or a blow to the economy.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade and politics. Send comments to the Observer or elizabethmorganstliz@gmail.com.


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