Once Britain leaves the EU, there will be several troubling consequences for the 12 Caribbean countries. Not only will the British market disappear from the EU, but so too will the British contribution to official aid and investment.
–– Sir Ronald Sanders
In a stunning turn of events, Britain voted to leave the European Union, and many commentators have considered the resultant outcome of the referendum held in the Britain to be “a historic decision sure to reshape the nation’s place in the world, rattle the continent and rock political establishments throughout the West”. The Economist, prior to the actual vote, had concluded that Brexit –– a decision to leave the European Union –– would be “bad for Britain, Europe and the world”.
Specifically, for Barbados and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the outcome of the June 23 referendum could not have come at a worse time. In addition, the implications of Britain’s looming exit from the European Union is nefariously wounding to Barbados and the English-Speaking Caribbean. These economies are still in the process of creating economic resurgence after years of depressed economic activity.
In the following paragraphs, I will examine three key areas of interest. I will additionally try to explain several of the possible consequences for the Caribbean region, particularly as the ramifications of Britain’s exit will derail the best efforts of Barbados’ economic recovery. The three areas of focus are:
Democracy vis-à-vis the tyranny of the majority;
Transnationalism and migration as sites of protest and resistance;
The weakening pound sterling as an adverse caveat for residents in Barbados, especially those persons who are dependent on pensions and remittances, coupled with the reality tourism spend will likely become further contained, thus affecting this country’s foreign exchange reserves.
The background context that gave life to a referendum on whether Britain should stay or leave the European Union, poured mainly from the national discourse within Britain that the country had lost sovereignty, and even its democracy, by being in the European Union. Some British politicians contended that “EU membership is incompatible with parliamentary sovereignty”, with Prime Minister David Cameron stating in 2013 that “national parliaments [are] the ‘true source’ of democratic legitimacy. Yet they have played only a marginal role in the EU”.
On the point of democracy, it was widely accepted that there is a democratic deficit within the structure of the European Union. The Economist wrote, regarding the European Union, that “it is supranational, but elections (including European ones) are fought on national issues. There is no Europe-wide demos. Voters cannot throw out the EU’s collective leadership. Both the council and the parliament are remote and unaccountable, with decisions often agreed on by shifting alliances”. In that sense, the sovereignty/democracy conundrum would have had an integral impact on the psyche of British voters.
The Express reckoned that “some of the biggest backers of Brexit were the areas where the dominant employer is a foreign corporation”, and in that situation, there was a wide margin of the population illustrating distrust against business elites and to some extent, towards the political elites that became embroiling purveyors of scepticism under the two major political parties.
Moreover, David Cameron’s promised referendum in the 2015 Conservative Party’s manifesto and that “rise of British Euroscepticism” which, according to the BBC, saw “earlier ambivalence turning into outright hostility”. Add this uncertainty and mixed messaging together, and they placed into the wider context the fertile conditions for increasing fear of foreigners and anti-immigrant discourses.
Free movement of people, the migration dilemmas, and the contentious issues arising from the stalled economies and bailouts of Greece and Spain became compounding factors throwing fuel to the firebrand movement of those preferring Britain’s exit from the European Union.
As the New York Times would have indicated, “the power of anti-elite, populist and nationalist sentiment at a time of economic and cultural dislocation” were central to the unstitching of Britain from its moorings of “security community” within the setup of the European Union. With protagonist Nigel Farage being increasingly vocal on the vexing issue of immigrant inundation, after the referendum he spoke of a normalcy returning to Britain that was characterized in such a way as to connote: “Normal countries elect their own leaders, make their own laws, have their own courts, control their own borders, that is what normal countries do.”
It was reported in British media that “more than four million migrants have come to Britain since Tony Blair threw open the floodgates in 1997” and, in recent times, British deterioration became imperilled to the extent that “the NHS is stretched to breaking point, the costs of housing have rocketed and parents struggle to find a school place for their child. We have witnessed extremist preachers spreading hate on our streets, the establishment of ethnic enclaves that only encourage division and disharmony, and the importation of backward practices such as female genital mutilation”.
Surely, against the background of things that have occurred in Barbados and the region, anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments are familiar humbugs that politicians use to rally support when these nuisances suit their purposes.
Arguably, the most important crack emerging from Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, with regards to CARICOM countries, is the financial impact for individuals and these fragile economies in the region. Britain is the second-largest economy after Germany in the European Union, and it is an advocate of free-market economics, with Barbados and the region having long-standing relations.
Vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, warns that “every aspect of Caribbean life [in the Caribbean Community] will be adversely affected by last Thursday’s vote” to leave the EU. He suggests that the devastating reach stretches from “trade relations to immigration, tourism to financial relations, and cultural engagements to foreign policy”; and further contends that “there will be a significant redefinition and reshaping of CARICOM-United Kingdom engagements”. This is as realistic as it can be a frightening disruption for the citizens/residents of the region.
In Barbados, with scores of people having returned to the island to live and several in the process of building their retirement homes, the cost factor will be troublesome with the rapid drop in the value of the British currency against the United States dollar. Air travel, which is already high, will become even more cumbersome.
On the whole, the economics of vacationing or living in Barbados after having spent years in Britain will be nightmarish for many in terms of the grave uncertainty of exchange rates. Investments, as well as aid packages, will not be able to sustain a dropping pound sterling.
A Sunday Sun editorial rightly points out that “the battle for our economic survival is not only to be fought on our domestic front, in which we seek to control the deficit and create space for the private sector to develop and grow the economy. We also have to mount consistent and timely responses to the ever-present challenges to the two largest foreign exchange earners of our economy”. No doubt, references are directly related to tourism and foreign direct investments; and one can easily add remittances to that equation.
Hence, it is in this brief consideration for where Barbados will now sit in contrast to the British vote to leave the European Union that it becomes a serious matter. The ramifications should employ our minds and practices because Barbados’ woes rise with the Brexit outcome. On top of this, we have a culture in the region of mimicking behaviour and patterns which sometimes are not in our best interest.
As an entity, CARICOM must move to reinforce its internal dynamics rather than rush ahead to find ways for one or more individual territories to rush away from our efforts at deepening regional integration. This can be the wake-up call that Barbadians and Caribbean people need.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, was editor of Caribbean Times –– Antigua. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)