Friday, March 1, 2024

PETER WICKHAM: Brexit to Caricom


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ON THURSDAY, June 22,  the British will vote on whether to stay in or leave the European Union for the first time in four decades and their potential exit is now affectionately referred to as the “Brexit”.

The matter of the UK remaining in or leaving the EU is entirely a matter for them and, moreover, it would appear as though their attitude towards us will not change materially either way and we will, therefore, be no better or worse off. An interest in this issue is largely academic, but relevant, because similar machinations could affect CARICOM eventually.

The circumstances surrounding the EEC Referendum of 1975 are similar to the EU Referendum of 2016 as both are couched in a regional political environment which the British believed they were getting the “short-end” of. In 1974 (minority) Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was uncomfortable with the deal he was getting for the UK as it related to the upgrade of the EEC toward the EU and sought the “counsel” of the British people in a vote which supported the UK’s continued membership in the EU.

On this occasion it is Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron (with a clear majority) who is similarly uncomfortable with the manner in which the EU is evolving and is therefore asking the British electorate whether they should stay or leave. Recent events have created a sense of discomfort among the more nationalist British who fear that they are losing control of their country to the “EU Government” in Brussels.

This fear is not illogical for either a UK leader or his people, since the EU has evolved considerable political power in last 40 years. There is now a EU Parliament with legislative autonomy over Westminster in specific areas and more offensive to some is the role of the Strasbourg-based Human Rights Court, which recently deemed unlawful the UK’s voting ban on prisoners convicted of serious crimes. 

The UK is questioning the EU’s ability to influence domestic policy and Prime Minister Cameron has responded to these concerns by employing a fascinating and courageous political mechanism. He previously promised this vote in the hope that it would help him win the favour of Euro sceptics who wear both political colours it the UK. The continued membership of the EU was then the perfect wedge issue. Having won, he had to fulfil his promise since the UK electorate is considerably less gullible than the Barbadian electorate where promises are concerned.

Referenda are always risky propositions even for a prime minister who has indicated that he is not offering himself for a third term. Naturally, one does not want to lose such a vote, less it be seen as a referendum on one’s stewardship.

This situation is, however, more complex as Cameron has already entrenched himself in a position of hostility to Brussels/Strasbourg. The post-election environment has, however, allowed for sober reflection with the help of the Conservative’s business interests which clearly understand how much the UK stands to lose by leaving the EU. Cameron has therefore negotiated a “fundamentally better” deal for the UK within the group and while it is obvious that his new arrangement is not “fundamentally different” he has fully exploited his oratorical skills to convince Brits that they should remain within the EU, which will be less hostile to their interests in the future.

Here, Cameron appears to have deliberately misconstrued the opinion of his people towards the EU. Clearly the British have reservations, but if properly understood they have reservations about the intrusion of the EU government into their lives, which would be no different if the Cameron government or any local council was perceived as intrusive. The wider EU project; however, is clearly popular if judged by the extent to which its facilities are embraced and exploited by Brits both privately and commercially. A withdrawal of the UK from the EU would therefore be highly unwise.

It is estimated by the UK Treasury that a Brexit could cost each household there up to 6 000 per annum, which is directly related to a GDP that would shrink. Moreover, the British traveller who as effortlessly commutes between Paris and London as we do from St Michael to Christ Church, might now be greeted by border control mechanisms last seen in the early 70s at the ports of Calais and Dover. One can only hope that the British voters will behave as wisely now as they did in 1975 and vote to stay.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email:


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