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The prime minister's dilemma A Caribbean perspective after Brexit

Frank
Phipps

Monday, November 05, 2018

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Prime Minister Theresa May has three options in the dilemma for leading her country out of the present state of uncertainty, frustration and confusion 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 Brexit is breeding suspicion and mistrust from those who wish to leave immediately. At the same time, there are many putting pressure on the Government to remain; demanding a rerun of the referendum to end the stalemate that directly affects the 512.6 million people of Europe who control 27.87 per cent of the world's economy.

The first option is to honour the decision of the people to leave the union, 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 in which much has changed on the world stage since the days of greatness of the British Empire — the wealth and power of an empire on which the sun never sets.

Today, there are three superpowers — the USA, Russia and China — who are faced off in a dangerous and bitter contest over world dominance, pushing Britain off the stage, by itself and in decline, but still holding on to a Commonwealth of Nations consisting of 2.3 billion people said to be on life support. Thia is the last stage of the mighty empire — sans power, sans friends, sans pomp and circumstance, sans everything but memories of the past.

The second option is to procrastinate in the quagmire of uncertainty about the terms and conditions for leaving the union, while sneaking back to full membership. This may not be as attractive an alternative as originally portrayed for joining. A union of people of one ethnicity, but with different languages, different cultures, different legal systems, and different stages of development, is not easy to achieve — nations of Europe with shifting allegiance 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 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 nations in Europe at war with themselves, reverberating over the globe as World War I and World War II. This was at great cost and sacrifice to Britain itself, a comparatively small country almost completely destroyed by the human and financial loss. It was the contribution from fellow members of the British Empire, and help from the USA (itself a former member of the Empire), that saved the civilised world — a world that families like mine across the colonial empire were taught to accept, to honour, and to defend as civilised (my father served in Egypt in WWI and my brother in the RAF in WWII).

Out of evil comes some good

The third option for breaking the stalemate over membership in Europe is never discussed because of Britain's own sins of the 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, but sharing a common heritage in language, culture, law, education, and democratic traditions, among other things — a model as an option for Britain to survive 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. Commonwealth countries are able to work together in an atmosphere of greater trust and understanding in which no one Government exercises power over the others, as is the case in a political union.

Britain and other members of the Commonwealth have largely overcome the prejudice of racism; where white signifies superiority and black identifies the undeveloped to be rule by the white. The inequality in the distribution of wealth in the Commonwealth will have to be adjusted by peaceful means with mutual respect in co-operation for a borderless union of nations.

The enlightened treatment of the Windrush people, although in coming, is a small window of opportunity 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 of Britain may see the Commonwealth of Nations as a viable option to pursue after Brexit, pointing the way for a better world. 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 comingling of people of different ethnicity from different parts of the world produced a unique breed of 6.8 million people in the Caribbean archipelago — being neither white nor black — 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 with the indigenous people of the region, later joined by people from India and people from China, and much later by a sprinkle from the Middle East, produced the Commonwealth Caribbean — A people boasting five title holders, including the most beautiful woman in world; two Nobel laureates (one for literature and one for economic); 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, and carrying a message for the second emancipation of people worldwide.

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 and electricity was used to run public transport without oil before the USA could. Despite the harsh origin of the majority, the Commonwealth Caribbean is where people now live in harmony without a political union, working for the second emancipation from poverty and economic hardship 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 expeiencing a dilemma over decisions for their security and well-being, not only in Europe. Our world is filled with propositions, themes, and subject matters about which we have to make a variety of decisions as we move through life. This dilemma is not for Prime Minister May's decision alone, but let it begin with her.

Frank Phipps, QC, OJ is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Observer or frank.phipps@yahoo.com.

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