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Brexit or not

ERIC SMITH, [email protected]

Brexit or not

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TODAY the electorate of the United Kingdom votes on whether to remain in, or leave, the European Union (EU).

This contentious referendum has been driven by divergent views on the benefits of membership to British citizens, commerce and security. The debate also invoked the Enoch Powell era fear of Britain being overrun by a tide of immigrants.

The campaign had little to do directly with Barbados and most of the other former British colonies in this region, but the outcome will undoubtedly have some implications for all of us.

The wish on the face of it is for the people across the UK to vote to stay with the known and proven. The majority expert view outside of Britain has been that the negative fallout would be substantial should the electorate, even by a majority of one, opt to leave. Those who have urged the British to stay the course have ranged from President Barack Obama to the International Monetary Fund to prominent industry captains, football icon David Beckham and music producer Simon Cowell.

The well-known leave supporters include cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and cricket legend Sir Ian Botham. For Johnson, the stakes are rather high, since victory for his team could very well catapult him into a leadership position within the Conservative government. The stakes are equally high for Prime Minister David Cameron as defeat may force him to resign.

There will almost be certain reforms within Britain even if the British decide to stay in the EU. The influx of people from across the continent will more than likely be slowed as it will become harder for emigrants rushing to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. Eligibility for the National Health Scheme which Brits feel is being exploited by illegal immigrants will also most likely be addressed.

Given the complex nature of British/EU relations, the truth is that Brexit (leaving) would mean dealing with multiple financial, budgetary, regulatory and trade arrangements. Relationships, practices and obligations in place over many years would mean nothing.

For Barbados and the wider Caribbean, the concerns will be about trade, investment and the bilateral and multilateral arrangements now offered directly with Britain or through the EU.

Some have warned about a plunge in the value of sterling if Britain leaves and this would have implications for remittances, tourist spending and even direct investment, at least in the short-term. On the other hand, studying in the UK would be cheaper.

Certainly, the Barbados High Commission in London and the mission in Brussels must have followed the debate and would have by now informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on all the implications and how they foresee the outcome of the vote.

Given the number of Barbadians, whether first, second or third generation, who live in the UK, we ought not to dismiss the vote as another distant international issue.

It is interesting that the referendum in Britain has completely overshadowed another vote, which should also capture our attention. In Bermuda, where a number of Barbadians work and live, the people of that British territory are voting in a non-binding referendum on same-sex marriage.