By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 27, 2016
Nine days ago when I arrived in London I had hoped the UK (United Kingdom) would remain within the EU (European Union). Having grown up within the British Empire, I thought it was in Britain’s best interest to remain within the EU. There was some nostalgia but my wish wasn’t to be.
Up until last Thursday evening, even as the last vote was being cast, I hoped Remain, those who wished to stay within the EU, would pull it off. I had hoped the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, a fervent supporter of Remain, would be the catalyst Remain supporters needed to keep their dreams alive. That hope faded as the early dawn heralded a new day on Friday morning.
There was International pressure urging Britain to remain within the Union. On June 19, the New York Times reported the European nations were looking at the possibility of “a British departure from the bloc with disbelief, trepidation and anguish. But they are preparing to retaliate.” Radoslaw Sikroski, a former British foreign minister, underlined Britain’s value to the EU. “The European Union,” he said, “is much better with Britain within it providing liberal politics, liberal economics and a center of democratic political consensus of a kind needed now in Europe.”
Sir John Major, former British Prime Minister, saw the referendum as “a battle between economics and emotions” and echoed the civilizational aspect of the debate. He said that if Britain left, “Europe will diminish. Europe will have a lesser voice. The cradle of modern civilization will have a lesser voice than it has at the present time.” (Financial Times, June 20).
Martin Wolf, one of Britain’s most distinguished economists, saw the pluses and minuses of immigration. Yet, he felt constrained to condemn “the xenophobia and outright lies from Brexiters on this topic.” He put it best when he said “a decision to leave [the Union] would damage not only the UK but also Europe, the west and the world….Voters should exercise the option to leave if and only if they are certain they will never regret their doing so” (FT, June 22).
Xenophobia won out in the end although there were other concerns. There was the split between metropolitan heartland and country; the disconnect between the elites and the masses; those who saw themselves as global citizens and those who prized the bulldog, isolationist identity of a more conservative England.
Yet, the fear of immigrants flooding their gates made Britons put their emotional fears ahead of their economic well-being. At least, that is how it looked as the British pound began to tumble in the immediate aftermath of the vote and the realization dawned that the third largest economy in Europe and the fifth largest in the world may pay dearly for its decision to leave.
Britain’s decision to leave may even result in the unraveling of the UK itself, Scotland and Ireland opting for independence, their being closer to the EU than England itself. It might even lead to a transformation of British politics which hitherto “developed along traditional left-right lines with power rotating between the Conservatives and Labour” (FT, June 24.)
While the British decision to leave the EU may not have an immediate effect upon us in T&T, eventually the disarray caused by Britain’s departure will prove detrimental to our economy. In this context, it may be wise to heed Wolf’s caution that the withdrawal of “the mother country of the English-speaking world… would herald western weakness and global disarray” and this would hurt us in T&T.
This raises the question: Where is our Foreign Minister in all of this? Why hasn’t our country, undergoing economic dislocation and stagnation, named an ambassador to the fifth largest economy in the world?
While it is important to consolidate our economic ties with Venezuela which owns a major part of our shared gas reserves—especially when our gas reserves are running out—isn’t it just as important to deepen and explore our ties with the UK and EU since we are not too sure how these new formations will look in the future?
Hon. Dennis Moses, what is your plan, what is your strategy?
T&T needs a more activist foreign policy agenda. This is not the time to place our Foreign Minister within the Ministry of National Security. He should be heading abroad to strengthen our ties with the economies of Canada, the US, the UK and the EU fully aware, as the old people used to say, “When yo’ neighbor house on fire; wet yours.”
We really ought to take a closer look at our diplomatic posture—which is an arm of our economic initiative—and ask if we are doing as much as we can under the circumstances.