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Editorial: Placing UK/Carib relations on reset

Published:Friday | September 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It's peculiar that neither the United Kingdom (UK) nor the Jamaican Government has formally confirmed this week's planned official visit to the island by British Prime Minister David Cameron, which ought to be of more than passing significance to either side. We hardly think there resides in Jamaica the terrorist threats to Mr Cameron's safety to impose such a requirement for secrecy about his travel.

Mr Cameron will be the first sitting UK prime minister to visit since his fellow Tory, Margaret Thatcher, came in 1987, since when much has changed in the world. Twenty-eight years ago, Mrs Thatcher was pledging to help Jamaica and its Caribbean partners protect their trade preference in the European Union, while resisting sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government. Such preferences are now largely history in the age of the World Trade Organisation and Jamaica in the midst of a painful overhaul of its economy. The Cold War has long ended and the complications it wrought now seem relatively benign compared to new regional conflicts and the threats to global security posed by organisations such as Islamic State and evidenced in the refugee crisis being faced by Europe.

In that regard, Mr Cameron and his Jamaican counterpart, Portia Simpson Miller, should have a fair bit to talk about, especially given the long history of relations between their countries, including more than 300 years of British colonial control of Jamaica. Britain retains economic and other interest in the Caribbean and, therefore, has a stake in the region's security. That ought to include the economic stability of Caribbean states.


promised redirection of UK aid


It is not this newspaper's sense that Mr Cameron's government has a substantial, or clearly articulated, project of economic support for the Caribbean, and particularly for the so-called middle-income countries of the region, except where it relates to matters of hard security, as opposed to investment and growth-oriented issues. Yet, there are concerns in the region that even existing British development support outlays for the Caribbean - £75 million for 2011-2015 - could fall under threat, given Mr Cameron's promised redirection of UK aid money to support Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.

Mr Cameron should reassure Jamaica, and by extension the region, not only that this will not happen, but that his government is ready and open to a new engagement to help the Caribbean respond to the new challenges and strengthen areas of vulnerability in their economies.

There is another subject of delicacy and potential discomfort for Mr Cameron, which we suggest that he addresses frontally: slavery and reparation for Britain's role in it. While this newspaper remains unconvinced of the logic of reparation at this juncture in history, we believe that the State of Great Britain bears a moral responsibility for what William Hague, the former foreign secretary, described as a "brutal, mercenary and inhumane system".

In 2007, at the time of the 150th anniversary of the slave trade, Tony Blair, the then UK prime minister, expressed "deep sorrow and regret" for the "unbearable suffering" of the people who fell in slavery. But he stopped short of a full apology. Mr Cameron should offer an unambiguous apology, inclusive of the use of the word. He will likely find it cathartic and a clean start to a new relationship with the Caribbean.