Tue | Jun 2, 2020

Frank Phipps | A Caribbean perspective after Brexit

Published:Thursday | November 15, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Frank Phipps
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May reacts during a press conference inside 10 Downing Street in London. May says that if politicians reject her Brexit deal, it will set the country on "a path of deep and grave uncertainty".

Prime Minister Theresa May has three options for leading her country out of the present state of uncertainty resulting from the outcome of the referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union.

The delay in making a decision on the terms and conditions for leaving caused a split in the Cabinet, with resignations by senior members who wish to leave unconditionally. However, the remaining majority support a soft exit, with the governor of the Bank of England's caution against leaving without a deal. At the same time, some citizens are pressuring the government for a rerun of the referendum to end the stalemate.

The consequence of an affirmative decision will affect not only Britain and the 512.6 million people of Europe who control a substantial portion of the world's economy. Trading arrangements worldwide will experience a tremor from Brexit.

The first option for the prime minister is to honour the decision of the people to leave the union decisively without holding up for a deal, especially when there is no guarantee that a rerun will give a different result. The proponents of this action see the country returning to separateness with inward-looking legal, monetary, and political freedoms to make Britain great again. In pursuing this decision, the country must face today's reality, where much has changed on the world stage since the days of greatness of the British Empire.


Three Superpowers


Today, there are three superpowers. The USA, Russia, and China faced off in a dangerous and bitter contest for world dominance, pushing Britain off the stage - alone and in decline but still holding on to a Commonwealth of Nations consisting of 2.3 billion people said to be on life support - the last stage of a mighty empire, sans pomp and circumstance. Sic transit Gloria.

The second option is to procrastinate in the quagmire of uncertainty about the terms and conditions for leaving the Union while sneaking back to what amounts to full membership. This may not be as attractive an alternative as originally portrayed for joining. A union of peoples in one continent, each bordered and under separate governments, with different languages, cultures, legal systems and stages of development is not easy to achieve.

The nations of Europe, with shifting allegiances and commitments, have never been at peace among themselves. For the Union to be sustainable, each member must compromise their sovereignty, sacrifice some measure of national integrity, with the differences plastered over for sticking together in the interest of security and economic benefits. Inevitably, there will be a retreat from harmony in the Union when extreme nationalism is pulling them apart - a condition of uncertainty for membership exacerbated by the entry of foreign emigrants taking a toll.

Twice in the previous century, Britain had come to the rescue of Europe at war with itself, reverberating over the globe as World War 1 and World War 2. This was at great cost and sacrifice to Britain itself, a comparatively small country almost completely destroyed by the human and financial loss for keeping the peace. It was the contribution from other members of the British Empire (now Commonwealth of Nations) and help from the USA (itself a former member of the empire) that saved the civilised world, where families like mine across the colonial empire were taught to accept, to honour and to defend as civilised (my father served in Egypt in WW1 and my brother in the RAF in WW2).

Out of evil comes good.

The third option for breaking the stalemate has never been openly discussed because of Britain's own sinful past. Out of the wickedness of the colonial British Empire emerged a Commonwealth of Nations comprising countries with people of different ethnicities from across the globe, including Asia, Africa, North and South America, sharing a common language, law, education and democratic traditions - among other things - a model as an option for Britain to exercise for survival in the world contest for economic hegemony.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 sovereign nations born as the result of the decentralisation and eventual disintegration of an empire. Independent states, consulting and cooperating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace, working together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding where no one government exercises power over the others.

Britain and other members of the Commonwealth have largely overcome the prejudice of racism with the knowledge of one human race where appearance, such as skin, hair or eye colour, does not divide - brown cows don't give brown milk, black hens lay the same white eggs as white hens, with no difference in taste or nutrition. Here also is an opportunity to adjust inequality in the distribution of wealth by sharing technology in far-reaching markets of the world with cooperation and mutual respect for a borderless union of nations, working out a presence on the world stage promoted by the newly appointed Commonwealth ambassadors.

Britain's enlightened treatment of the Windrush people, although late in coming, provides a window to see the way forward for reparation to compensate those who are victims of the worst aspects of the empire that made Britain great, and for repatriation for those who seek it.

The prime minister may see re-energising of the Commonwealth as a viable option after Brexit for balancing the conflicting demands for peace and equality in a better world, not only for Europe. "There comes a time when the world must come together as one (Michael Jackson, et al, 1985)."


One World, One People


In a small part of the empire, the commingling of people of different ethnicities from different parts of the world produced a unique breed of 6. 8 million people in the Caribbean archipelago - identified as West Indians - who cannot be ignored on the world stage.

The involuntary transportation of people from Africa to live, however incongruously, together with the British and the indigenous people of the region, to be joined later by people from India and people from China, and much later by a sprinkle from the Middle East, brought about the Commonwealth Caribbean with people boasting five title holders of the world's most beautiful women, three Noble Laureates - two for literature and one for economics - world leaders in athletics with the fastest man in the world, the new Rastafarian religion and the incomparable Bob Marley with a culture and practice spreading rapidly across the globe, carrying a message of 'One Love' for the final emancipation of all people.

Despite enslavement of the majority with unspeakable cruelty, the denial of their humanity for three centuries under British colonial rule and the bloody struggle for the first Emancipation, trains were carrying freight and people through mountains long before the Canadian Pacific Railway. Energy was harnessed for electricity to run public transport without oil before the USA could. Despite the harsh origin of the majority, the Commonwealth Caribbean is where people live in harmony without a political union, working for elimination of poverty and economic emancipation in a world where might is right and the strong exclude the weak from the Eden of plenty.

There are many people of the world where there is a dilemma over decisions for their freedom, their security and well-being, not only in Europe. ("Our world is filled with propositions, themes, and subjects - matters about which we have to make a variety of decisions as we move through life ('The Dilemma of Recognition', Carla Schrami). This dilemma is not for Prime Minister May's decision alone, but let it begin with her.

- Frank Phipps, QC, is an attorney-at-law and member of the National Council on Reparations. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.