Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Ronald Mason | The BREXIT earthquake

Published:Sunday | June 26, 2016 | 6:00 AM

On Thursday, June 23, 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom were asked to vote on the country's continued membership in the European Union (EU). It is important to recall that the UK includes England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The campaign leading up to the referendum was specific in asking whether the UK should "leave or remain". The voter turnout was very heavy. Emotions ran high, and on the eve of the vote, there was the presumption that the supporters of Remain would eke out a narrow victory, thus maintaining the status quo. This was not to be.

The citizens participated with a 72 per cent turnout and, in supporting the Leave position, produced a victory margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent. There was a 1.2 million-plus-vote victory. It was an earthquake of catastrophic proportions. All the divisions in the UK society have been exposed.

Scotland voted to remain, urban London voted to remain, Northern Ireland voted to remain, Wales voted to leave, and rural England, to the north, voted to leave. The younger electors, aged 20-30, voted heavily to remain. Those with degrees and formal education voted to remain, while the older rural folks voted to leave.

 

FUTURE OF CARICOM

 

Democracy and how it is operated, along with the migration issues in England, featured prominently in how the citizens actually voted. The shock of the referendum has reverberated throughout the globe. The financial markets have almost gone into free fall and the pound sterling has taken major hits against the US dollar and euro. This result has given a preview to the future of CARICOM.

Let us remember, Caribbean people ruled on the West Indies Federation in 1961. It died. The leaders then embarked on a new process that led to the Caribbean common market, then on to free trade and on to CARICOM. This progression followed closely the blueprint of the European Union. I am given hope that the CARICOM experiment will never rise to the level of political integration that lurks in the background.

An elderly English woman was asked if she voted, and she replied in the affirmative. When asked why, she asked, "What was the war all about? Britain had fought European interests in World War II and won. Now I am being ruled by European councils and European laws and regulations." Congratulations, my good lady. Being sovereign is a marvellous state to be in.

The Economist, on June 25, 2016, took a look at the character of the British in the actions during the referendum. They found that they were not 'intellectual'. They have no need for any philosophy or systematic world vision. "Faced with a choice between an imperfect status quo and a leap into the dark, this usually practical, cautious people have flung itself into the unknown and left its leaders, and the rest of the world aghast."

The article further commented: 'What, then, does this tell us about the uncertain new world into which England has now thrust the United Kingdom? In the coming weeks and months, Brexiters and Remainers alike will rightly dwell on the need to listen to an alienated public: particularly voters in the post-industrial north, who backed Leave more strongly than had been anticipated.

 

SOLD A PUP

 

Yet the old English pragmatism is not dead, despite the emotional spasm of June 23rd. Voters will soon realise that they have been sold a pup. They are surely still practical and hard-headed enough to want whoever leads the coming negotiations to cut a deal with the EU that preserves many of its benefits; that keeps Britain as open and as prosperous as possible. For now, Brexiters will congratulate themselves for unleashing the inner anarchist in a normally sensible nation. But then that doughtier, more familiar English trait - worldly scepticism - must and will reassert itself.

All of this has implications for Jamaica. Our relationship is dictated by our relationship as a former colony of England. The EU is the largest provider of grant funding to Jamaica - five billion euros last fiscal year. We have to acquire EU visas to visit the EU members. This should be an impetus for us to understand that this world owes Jamaica nothing and we must earn our way.

Literally, overnight, relationships can change - to Jamaica's detriment. We must, as a country, quickly find our nichÈ. Export or forever be mendicants of the world. We have it all: products based on agro-processing; a tourism industry including health care, sports, cuisine, entertainment and wellness, whose products can easily compete; BPO industry; maritime sector. All these offer products worthy of quick exploration and implementation.

The world beckons.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.