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Editorial | Engaging the new Britain

Published:Friday | July 15, 2016 | 7:00 AM

Jamaica's political leaders have offered the predictable welcome to Britain's new prime minister, Theresa May, noting the confidence placed in her by her Conservative Party colleagues and looking forward, during her tenure, to continued strong relations between Jamaica and the United Kingdom. So, too, does this newspaper, given the historic social and economic partnership between the two countries and, indeed, among others in the Caribbean.

However, Jamaica and its colleagues in the regional group will have to define what they expect that relationship to look like and work at it. For it is unlikely, in the short to medium term, that the Brits will pay too great attention to what they might consider a geopolitically less critical region like the Caribbean, distracted, as they will be, by uncertainties at home and their place in Europe. That, in part, will mean pushing hard at Whitehall to ensure a hearing.

The problem of that course was the reckless gamble by David Cameron of calling a referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union (EU), by which he had hoped to bring to heel the long-sniping Eurosceptics of his party. He lost, unleashing forces whose eventual impact is unknown.

Not only will Britain have to untangle itself from membership of the European club with uncertain economic consequences, it, in doing so, has to be careful to hold the union together, given that Scotland, which has already raised the possibility of another referendum on independence, and Northern Ireland voted against Brexit. The victory for the Brexit majority has also laid bare schisms in Britain along the lines of race, ethnicity, age, education, and region.

It is little wonder, in the circumstance, that in her inaugural address as PM, Mrs May invoked the full title of her party, reminding of the 'Unionist' at the end, reinterpreted to mean "a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens - every one of us - whoever we are and wherever we're from".

 

UNCHARTED WATERS

 

"The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours," she said.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, she assumes leadership with the British economy still weak, and after 43 years of membership in the EU, about to enter uncharted and potentially perilous waters - as it might well be for Jamaica, CARICOM, and CARIFORUM, with which the EU has a trade agreement that in 2015, was worth €11.9 billion, of which €4.5 billion was exports from this region. Jamaica's share of that was €223 million, the bulk of which went to Britain.

Matters are complicated by the fact that the region has development aid agreements with the EU, although there is also bilateral assistance from the UK such as its support for security in Jamaica.

Fashioning post-Brexit architecture between London and the Caribbean won't be easy, and the region will have to work with largely unknown quantities - Liam Fox, the Brexiter who heads a new department for international trade; David Davis, who is in charge of leaving the EU; and the mercurial Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who, not so long ago, referred to black "pickaninnies" with "broad smiles".

Jamaica, as CARICOM's lead on international relations, will be at the forefront of this effort not only at the domestic level, but at a regional one. More immediately, though, we must get to know Priti Patel, the new secretary for international development, who owns the budget for development aid.