BY A SMALL MAJORITY, the British people voted to remove themselves from the European Union (EU). The decision has major consequences for the Caribbean.
What happens next is far from clear, with even the outline of the two-year process of leaving uncertain.
As far as the Caribbean is concerned, it is clear from the experts, politicians and officials that I have spoken to over the months since the campaign began, that significant uncertainties and problems will now arise for the region’s relationship with the UK and with the rest of Europe.
The Caribbean will be affected in a number of ways. These include a possible negative impact on trade and development flows; a diminution in the region’s ability to influence thinking on its policy concerns in Europe; a specific range of problems for the UK’s overseas territories in the region; and a long period of uncertainty as Britain’s foreign, trade and development policy is reoriented.
British withdrawal could also have wider consequences, for example for Europe’s future relationship with the African Caribbean and Pacific grouping of states, and accelerate the EU’s general trend towards dialogue with Latin America and the Caribbean as a single region, rather than two distinct blocs.
To begin to understand what may now happen it is necessary to know something of the process involved in the UK ceasing to be a member of the EU.
This would include the CARIFOUM Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the association agreements with Central and South America, but more importantly those arrangements Britain would wish to keep with its major global trading partners. It would be a process that could potentially amend existing levels of access or asymmetries, challenging the UK’s limited trade negotiating capacity, most likely giving priority to the relationships that matter most.
What this vastly over-simplified sketch suggests is that while preferential arrangements would continue to be offered, at a regional level CARIFORUM will have to undertake a rapid analysis of the significance of Britain outside the EU’s customs union to its flows of trade in goods and services; whether its companies with manufacturing or other investments in the UK would suffer if free movement into the EU was not available; and determine whether the UK would seek to change any of its transitional measures with, for example, competitor nations in Latin America or elsewhere.
Just as importantly, because the relationship with a diminished EU would remain in place, the Caribbean will have to decide how it ensures its relations with the rest of Europe remain strong. This is because for many years Britain’s voice for the Caribbean has been significant in Council meetings in Brussels, and with the European Commission and many other EU institutions, helping ensure that the region has had a better hearing among an increasingly skeptical group of member states, that for the most part have no relationship with the region.
Brexit also arises at a time when a wholesale review of EU foreign policy is being undertaken, European trade priorities are being reconsidered, the future of the ACP relationship with Europe is in doubt, and new approaches are being developed to respond to the recently agreed UN sustainable development goals: all matters which requiring a supportive voice for the Caribbean inside the EU.