Round Table Board members have been sharing their thoughts following the UK’s referendum vote to leave the European Union.
Stuart Mole, Chairman, The Round Table writes:
I know I am not alone in being deeply concerned about the negative impact of Brexit on the UK’s security, influence and standing in the world.
But what of Brexit and the Commonwealth?
Despite a chorus of Commonwealth leaders urging the UK to remain, there will at least be no muttered threats about what retribution might be in store from Commonwealth partners. Member countries are likely to be sympathetic and supportive, even if any prospect of an alternative Commonwealth trading agreement remains a mirage. With the UK the next host of the Commonwealth summit, early in 2018, British involvement in, and commitment to, the Commonwealth is likely to increase, at a time when a protracted European divorce could be reaching its climax.
But the loss of the UK’s European influence will be keenly felt in other respects. Cyprus and Malta – the latter about to assume the EU Presidency – will lose a powerful Commonwealth ally within the EU. That will also be true of the UK’s relationship with the 79-strong African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states, a majority of whom are Commonwealth countries. Former Commonwealth Secretary-General Sonny Ramphal forged close Commonwealth-ACP links, having played a major role in negotiating the Lomé Conventions which saw the birth of the ACP in 1975. The group’s emphasis on sustainable development and particularly on small island states has provided a natural point of Commonwealth/UK connection.
And what about the often neglected claim to Commonwealth recognition and identity from the British Overseas Territories (BOTs), such as Bermuda, St Helena, the Falklands Islands and Turks and Caicos? The unwillingness of the people of Gibraltar to lose European protection in dealing with their powerful Spanish neighbour was manifest in their overwhelming vote to remain. Without consultation the BOTs will now be deprived of the status and programmes they currently enjoy as OCTs (EU Overseas Countries and Territories).
Perhaps this yawning developmental and diplomatic Commonwealth deficit will be filled by an energised UK, flushed with repatriated EU contributions and eager to renew its Commonwealth links? But, in the absence of positive measures, I fear that a further withering of the Commonwealth connection is a more likely outcome.
Richard Bourne, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London writes:
Disrupters in commerce, like the switch to internet shopping, lead to unpredictable and ricochet changes. The UK’s vote for Brexit, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, is of this order. It will increase the value of associations that predate UK accession to the EEC in 1973, such as the Commonwealth and NATO, but also threaten the stability not only of the EU but support for regional mirror images like SADC, CARICOM, ECOWAS created by governments with limited public buy-in.
For developing Commonwealth countries there is a danger that UK withdrawal will lead EU aid and development priorities to revert to the Francophone bias pre-1973. The process of negotiating European Partnership Agreements will suffer where Commonwealth states wish to protect their UK trading agreements, post-Brexit. A large responsibility lies with Joseph Muscat, Malta prime minister and chair of both the European Council of Ministers from 1 January 2017 and of the Commonwealth now, to forge new relationships with both the UK and other Commonwealth members.
David Jobbins, Editorial Consultant to The Complete University Guide writes:
The EU, in common with every international organisation including the Commonwealth, is far from perfect.
Those of us on the losing side have no option but to accept the vote, to rethink, regroup and strive to protect the advances in human and employment rights and environmental protection made during our EU membership through all possible avenues.
The Commonwealth is one such avenue of international co-operation through which we can seek to preserve key rights and maintain our global influences as a power for democracy, respect and integrity.
Let us hope that the path on which the UK has begun does not diminish our standing among our Commonwealth partners to the extent that our ability to be a force for progress is harmed.
I have spent all my working life – 40 plus years – devoted to and fighting for international cooperation, sustainable development and democracy and human rights, all of which are closely interlinked. I do not want to see my life-long commitment and that of so many other dedicated colleagues and friends from around the world being undermined by a UK decent into a ‘Little England’ status. Instead, I want to see a Great Britain, proudly supporting international engagement and progressive developmental policies in all international organisations including of course CLGF and the Commonwealth in which I fervently continue to believe in.
Venkat Iyer, the Editor of The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, writes:
It was only to be expected that the result of the Brexit referendum would be followed by a certain amount of breast beating on the part of those supporting the Remain camp. But it is dispiriting to see the petulant – even spiteful – response of some on the losing side (as was evident, for example, in the way a baying mob descended on the home of Boris Johnson on the morning of the result). A particularly unwelcome – and dangerous – development is the attempt, reportedly underway, to have the outcome of the referendum repudiated through a signature campaign. This appears to be a case of “if you don’t like the answer, keep asking the same question again until you get the result you want”.
While there can be a serious debate on the appropriateness or otherwise of referenda as a way of settling momentous issues, basic decency – as well as the democratic principle – would dictate that all sides in a referendum accept the results with good grace, especially when there are no complaints about any procedural or other irregularities in the conduct of the poll itself. Viewed in that context, the behaviour of some on the Remain side is disappointing. Last Thursday’s events have thrown up enough challenges for the country to grapple with for many months to come, and the last thing most people want is obstructionism and peevishness from any quarter.
My role managing social media for the Round Table has shown me the growing divisions in the UK over the last few weeks. Commonwealth trade experts have been saying from early on in this debate that it was never a choice of ‘EU v Commonwealth’ and that the UK and the Commonwealth could enjoy the benefits of both associations.
One of the challenges for the UK’s future leaders will be to heal a “United Kingdom” divided by the Brexit campaign. The UK’s future relations with the Commonwealth will no doubt be an important mainstay in the debate about the UK’s future place in the world. It will take a putting aside of national ego and political ambition, as well as a lot of goodwill from Britain’s friends, to help shape the times to come.