Editorial | In the aftermath of Britain’s referendum
The vote by Britons, narrow though it was, to leave the European Union (EU) has opened a complex and potential messy period for the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe that is unlikely, as we warned three months ago, to be without consequences for Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
In the first instance, it will perhaps embolden the anti-regionalists in Jamaica who regularly inveigh against CARICOM to urge Prime Minister Andrew Holness, whose Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) would have in the past been counted among that number, to follow David Cameron and put the issue to a plebiscite. That would be short-sighted, which, reassuringly, Mr Holness has shown in recent times he increasingly appreciates.
The more important issue for Jamaica and regional policymakers, though, is to begin to make sense of what has happened in Britain, its potential knock-on effect elsewhere, and to start to think seriously about how they may recalibrate their policies to accommodate the new circumstances. That starts with being sure about what is certain, which is the uncertainty exemplified by the downward spiral of sterling and accompanying volatility of global bourses, reflecting worry over the future of the UK's economy outside Europe.
UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE UNITY OF UK
Then there is the uncertainty about the unity of the United Kingdom itself. Eighteen months ago, Scotland voted 55-45 per cent in a referendum to remain in the union. On Friday, an overwhelming 62 per cent of them voted in favour of the EU, in keeping with the Scottish National Party's (SNP) insistence that the country's future was in Europe, which was among its platform in the recent election for Scotland's devolved parliament. So, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and Scotland's first minister, now says that another independence referendum is "highly likely".
Further, it is yet unclear when Britain, under a new prime minister, given David Cameron's post-defeat decision to step-down, will trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, under which member states can exit the EU, and what post-membership agreement London will be able to negotiate with Brussels, which it will have two years to complete once the exit clock starts ticking. Additionally, while Jamaica has a historic relationship with Britain, its former colonial power that, on the economic front, over the past 40 years, been superseded by supranational pacts with the EU, such as the Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and CARIFORUM (CARICOM plus the Dominican Republic). Obviously, Britain contributed, but it is the EU specifically from which Jamaica has received around €240 million in economic support over the past five years.
Clearly, there are many issues for Jamaica to consider as it seeks to adjust to this newly emerging, uncertain environment in which its partners are likely to be distracted Britain, as it attempts to heal the rifts of a close (51.9 per cent - 48.1 per cent) referendum while trying to restructure its global economic and political arrangements; and the EU, as it assesses its legitimacy and relationships with the people within its borders.
Jamaica's issues with CARICOM, about which we love to have a whinge, are not the same as the UK's and Europe. And their fixes, primarily, are about Jamaica's pursuing rational fiscal policies, which it failed to do for more than 40 years.