Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Orville Taylor | Tek Brexit and mark death: No to Jamxit

Published:Sunday | June 26, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Parliamentary Faction Leader Volker Kauder rings the bell after German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived for a meeting of the Christian Democratic parties faction in the Reichstag building in Berlin last Friday. Merkel, whose country is the political and economic engine of the EU, was stung by the British referendum which was called.
Cameron
1
2

When someone finds something repugnant, they often say, "EU!" And that is exactly what the British have said.

After 43 years of being in the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) has lost its appetite for a federation and said 'no' to a federated Europe. By a margin of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent, the British electorate has voted for secession from the EU; Britain's Exit (Brexit).

It is June 2016, but just around 55 years earlier, a tiny nation with an ego and punching power way beyond its economic resources took to its citizens in a referendum on the eve of its political independence from none other than Britain. To the question, "Should Jamaica remain in the Federation of the West Indies?", 54.1 voted 'no' with 45.9 voting 'yes'. In both cases, there was low voter turnout. Back in 1961, only 61.5 per cent of the electorate showed up. On Thursday, 30 per cent stayed home. Perhaps it was because of the rain, but the statistical split in the middle took the F out of the federation and the UK out of the EU.

In many ways, it was an ego trip. Jamaica, led by an intellectual premier, with an unlettered opposition leader, who had campaigned in 1944 under the tagline, 'Self-government means slavery', was sharply divided on the concept of the West Indies Federation, to which Jamaica gained membership in 1958. It was a year after six European countries had signed the Treaty of Rome, the prelude to the EU.

What federation was to have meant was a sort of seamless political and economic union, like what the EU eventually became. Yet, by and large, the average citizen did not fully understand it, except in terms of parochial bread-and-butter issues such as jobs and less-privileged people coming to suck the mother pig.

 

JAMAICA SUCKED DRY

 

Indeed, The Gleaner's own cartoonist, Urban Leandro, drew an unflattering depiction of the hysteria and ignorance. A poorly caricatured sow, representing Jamaica, was being sucked dry by the tiny island nations; and yes, we were sure that Guyana and Belize were islands, too. In the end, the great Jamaica, the land of lots of wood and water, with foreign companies digging up our bauxite, believed that we could have done it all by ourselves.

A heartbroken Trinidadian premier, Dr Eric Williams, the brightest head of government in the history of the Caribbean, lamented, "One from 10 leaves zero," and the federation met its demise.

Coincidentally, Jamaica signed the Treaty of Chaguaramas in 1973, and became an instrumental part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) the same year that Britain joined the then European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU. Again, as if history is repeating itself with some geography in the syllabus, there has been national disquiet in both nations about the membership in the respective regional entities.

In England, someone remembered that the British Isles were once a world power spreading its influence into a global empire which, at its peak, comprised just around a billion humans. Indeed, English is commonly spoken by almost half of the world's population and it is the international language of maritime and aerial navigation. And despite the national pride of the Americans, they were a British colony for almost 200 years and still bear the imprint of Her Majesty's culture.

But that was aeons ago, and with the exception of a few Commonwealth nations who hold slavishly to the monarchy as our head of state, the rest of the world has got the note that England is no longer a superpower.

Much of this has to do with economics and pure xenophobia, with fears of heavily accented people from other Eurozone countries. You know, like how we fear that Haitians will come here and take over our jobs if we finally agree to full CARICOM status, or how Bahamians, Barbadians and Trinidadians feel about us and Guyanese. In fact, as we speak, there are ordinary Jamaicans and some within the historically anti-Federation ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) who are not very enthusiastic about our membership in the watered-down version of the Federation.

With a massive Jamaican trade deficit with CARICOM and a similar pattern between the UK and the EU, this helped to fuel the push to Brexit and our ludicrous calls to Jamxit and 'Don't CARICOM' Trinidadian goods here.

However, let it be known that despite the trade deficits, no one is to blame but the British producers and their Jamaican counterparts. The EU represented an almost infinite market for British industries if it were smart enough to make use of it. Looking internally at a shrinking domestic market is as dumb as a doornail.

 

UK DEMISE

 

Within the vote to walk away from the EU could be the prelude to the demise of the UK. One should recall that Ireland has a bloody struggle that resulted in the Republic of Ireland ending up as an independent nation, while Northern Ireland has remained part of the 'United Kingdom'. Northern Ireland and Scotland had voted to remain in the EU.

This might be the time for Ireland, with a more stable economy, to reunite under one flag and say bye to the UK. Scotland is a tiny nation of just over 5.2 million people. Just two years ago, it voted to remain part of the UK. However, it wants to remain in the EU. Has the UK subverted the will of the Scots? Should they have another referendum to determine their 'Scotxit' from the EU, too, or simply another from the UK?

Only time will tell whether or not Brexit was a good move. However, Jamaica's currency was on par with the UK pound in 1969 and stronger than the US dollar in 1977. At last count, we were J$126: US$1 and sliding. In the short period since the Brexit vote, the pound sterling fell to a 31-year low of £1:US$1.35 before marginally recovering to $1.37.

Nonetheless, some think Britain should replace its flag, because it wants no union and it doesn't know Jack. But then again, neither do I.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.