I am writing this week’s article whilst on vacation in Britain, and one cannot help but have another stab at some of the implications for the vote by the Brits to file for divorce from the European Union.
The immediate ramifications are well documented, but what has truly surprised both market and political analysts was the decision by Boris Johnson not to seek leadership of the Conservative Party. As the likely successor to David Cameron after the Leave vote, his announcement sent shock waves through the political landscape, and perhaps has added more uncertainty to the financial markets.
In economics, certainty is the commodity mostly treasured by the investor community, along with businesses and households. Not necessarily in that order, but there is a strong causal relationship among the three important economic agents.
Boris’ decision not to stand for leadership of the Conservative Party is a clear abdication of duty, since he was an integral part of the Leave campaign, and ought to be the one at the helm to steer his country over the next few years. It seems as if someone who campaigned to Remain will likely become prime minister –– which doesn’t make much sense, given that Mr Cameron also campaigned to Remain.
I suppose it is one of those quirks of the Westminster system, where a sitting prime minister would resign his mandate because of the same reason someone else would take up the mantle –– and perhaps cite that it’s the will of the people. It will certainly be an interesting turn of events when the next prime minister assumes office and actually triggers Article 50 to start formal negotiations for Britain to exit the European Union.
Credibility is also an important element in the management of economic systems, and if the next prime minister campaigned to remain in the European Union, then I suspect that person would at the least have to call a general election before triggering negotiations under Article 50.
I am mindful that Britain now has fixed-term parliaments, but a two-thirds majority can override. Of course, that would introduce more uncertainty in the economy, but it seems the most sensible things to do to avoid any further and lasting damage.
If by chance you thought things weren’t spicy enough, Scotland has made its position quite clear that it wants to be part of the European Union. The next prime minister will definitely have his hands very full trying to preserve what used to be the United Kingdom whilst negotiating with the European Union.
Nothing makes you appear weaker across a negotiations table than when you have to play defence at home. Here is where Britain could, if it so desires, learn a hard lesson from Barbados, which few people might actually recognize.
One could hardly have expected Grantley Adams to keep the West Indies Federation, when in his own backyard Errol Barrow had broken away from the Barbados Labour Party, formed the Democratic Labour Party which took office in 1961, the very time the Federation required very strong leadership in order for the entity to survive and fulfil the mandate it was set up to serve.
It is instructive that the Federation was established by the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956 with the aim of establishing a political union among its members. It is ironic that some 60 years later the Brits would vote to leave a union very similar to what they had envisaged for the Caribbean. It really brings to light that what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.
In the same way that Barbadian voting for the DLP in 1961 weakened Mr Adams’ position as prime minister to effectively lead the federation, Scotland’s bid for a second Independence referendum would also weaken not just the new administration, but would negatively affect the size of what used to be the British economy.
In recent days, I’ve heard calls from within CARICOM to examine membership of the subregional institution, and it is the sovereign right of any country to do. In case I haven’t said it before, let me state that I am an unapologetic regionalist, and while we live under democratic systems, I could never support the dismemberment of such a crucial institution.
I say so because we have not yet found a group of leaders within the Caribbean who are each prepared to educate their people as to the fact that our individual fortunes are bound together in the collective. Politics in our small island needs to evolve beyond the size of our electorate and ought to acknowledge that it is the waters of the Caribbean Sea that bind us and not divide us.
However, I must also acknowledge that the Democratic Labour Party has not shown any interest in furthering the integration process over the past eight years, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, put to the vote, Barbadians would vote to leave CARICOM.
I would like to think that Barbadians are more knowledgeable as to the benefits of being in CARICOM, but, given the immigration policy of the DLP, particularly with respect to Guyanese nationals, and our tacit approval, it leads one to question our commitment to improving the lives of our people.
Barbados’ future lies with CARICOM, and it is a brighter one, but only if we truly integrate our people and confront the challenges of small states operating in the 21st century. We proudly boast and called ourselves Little England, but I hope we stand with our Caribbean sisters and brothers and demonstrate we are no longer growing up stupid under the Union Jack.
(Ryan Straughn, a Barbados Labour Party candidate, is a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill and Central Bank of Barbados-trained economist. Email [email protected])