Round Table Journal Brexit special edition graphic by Debbie

Introduction by Guest Editor Peter Clegg: Thus, much of the value of the special issue lies in the fact that it shines a detailed light on the historical and contemporary nature of relations between the UK and the Commonwealth and identifies the key issues looking forward. Linked to this, and possibly of greatest utility, is the inclusion in many contributions of how policy should be formulated to best strengthen the relationship in the future. For some this means the UK maintaining the strongest link possible with the EU; while others offer suggestions as to how Brexit might benefit the Commonwealth with the development of new trade and aid relationships. At a moment when the Brexit debate is in its infancy we have a hope that the special issue can contribute—even only in a small way—to shaping final policy outcomes; so whatever the ultimate relationship between the UK and the EU, the interests of the Commonwealth are safeguarded as much as possible. Indeed, it is the intention of The Round Table to maintain a focus on the Brexit issue as the debate moves forward.


Sir Peter Marshall, former Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General and former Chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society assesses Brexit in its Worldwide Aspect: An opportunity to be grasped
It is timely that the UK will host the meeting of Commonwealth trade ministers in 2017, and that the next CHOGM will also be held in this country in 2018. This will help to ensure that the UK seizes the Commonwealth opportunities which arise as Brexitation unfolds. In the first instance we should look to government priorities. It has been a constant complaint that because of the priority given to Europe, the British—and chiefly its diplomats—have forgotten that there is a ‘C’ in Foreign and Commonwealth Office.88. I was the first senior British diplomat to join the Commonwealth Secretariat. Mrs Thatcher did not conceal her lack of enthusiasm for the idea.View all notes A notable dearth of accusations of neo-colonialist tendencies can scarcely be said to compensate. There is lost ground to be made up. Second, the extent of migration as a world phenomenon, and the consequent problem of ensuring wise and humane management of community relations, have quite rightly directed attention to the Commonwealth as a factor within member countries, as well as between them. We can think in terms of the ‘internal Commonwealth’. The question is naturally of prime relevance to the UK. Third, while this country has a great deal to offer the Commonwealth as a hub for its activities, care must be taken to ensure that, in any significant expansion of them, the necessary distinction continues to be drawn between the benefits of being UK based on the one hand, and undue Anglo-centricity on the other. Informality and humour are of great help in maintaining the balance.


Eva Namusoke, University of London, on A Divided Family: Race, the Commonwealth and Brexit
In the period between 16 June and 30 June 2016, the UK saw a 42% rise in hate crimes compared with the same period in 2015. A report by social media activists titled #PostRefRacism analysed 645 racist and xenophobic incidents reported via social media, noting that ‘abuse targeted anyone perceived to be “foreign”; [it was] anti-immigrant rather than anti-European’. In the wake of a referendum that centred so strongly on conceptions of Britishness and who (if anyone) deserved entry to the UK, looking outward to former colonies and ranking their similarities to Britain is a problematic act. It seeks to divide the Commonwealth into the ‘most’ like the British and the rest. It seeks to reinforce the stratified structures of empire that the Commonwealth rhetoric of equality was intended—at least on paper—to move beyond. Significantly, in ignoring the Commonwealth heritage of the majority of non-white British people who have shaped the country’s culture and society, and instead claiming the Old Commonwealth as kith and kin, it seeks to place whiteness as a key criterion denoting commonality.


Mark Langan, University of Leicester, explores Brexit and Trade Ties between Europe and Commonwealth States in Sub-Saharan Africa: Opportunities for Pro-poor Growth or a Further Entrenchment of North–South Inequalities?
Brexit will of course have major implications for trade between Commonwealth African nations and the European continent. In the short term, the European Commission’s Economic Partnership Agreements with regional groups such as the East African Community will be complicated by the UK’s decision to leave the European project. Moreover, there are longer-term consequences to be considered, not least the role which the UK—as an independent trade actor—will adopt in its trade relations with Commonwealth African countries.


Peg Murray-Evans, University of York, looks at Myths of Commonwealth Betrayal: UK–Africa Trade Before and After Brexit
This article critically interrogates claims that a British exit from the European Union (EU) (Brexit) will create opportunities for the UK to escape the EU’s apparent protectionism and cumbersome internal politics in order to pursue a more liberal and globalist trade agenda based on the Commonwealth. Taking a historical view of UK and EU trade relations with the Commonwealth in Africa, the author highlights the way in which the incorporation of the majority of Commonwealth states into the EU’s preferential trading relationships has reconfigured ties between the UK and its former colonies over time. Further, the author suggests that the EU’s recent attempts to realise a vision for an ambitious set of free trade agreements in Africa—the Economic Partnership Agreements—was disrupted not by EU protectionism or internal politics but rather by African resistance to the EU’s liberal agenda for reciprocal tariff liberalisation and regulatory harmonisation. The UK therefore faces a complex challenge if it is to disentangle its trade relations with Africa from those of the EU and to forge its own set of ambitious free trade agreements with African Commonwealth partners.


Sophia Price, Leeds Beckett University, on Brexit, Development Aid, and the Commonwealth
Development cooperation between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states has provided a vehicle for the UK’s ongoing relationship with the majority of the Commonwealth, although this was widely overlooked in the run-up to the UK referendum and its aftermath. Membership of the EU has provided the UK with the opportunity to collectivise its obligations to ACP Commonwealth states and a framework for its development cooperation relations across the Global South. This has augmented British leadership in global development and the alignment of development policy and practice at the global, regional and national levels. This paper argues that withdrawal from the EU would be a lengthy and costly process that threatens to undermine the UK’s position in global development, current levels and sources of development funding and existing and nascent trade relations. While this will present particular challenges for ACP Commonwealth states, there may also be opportunities to propose and advocate for alternative frameworks. However, recent changes to the UK’s post-referendum political leadership does not augur well for those hoping for a roll back of pressures for liberalisation and associated reforms.


Wendy C. Grenade, University of the West Indies, on Paradoxes of Regionalism and Democracy: Brexit’s Lessons for the Commonwealth
The central question is, what does the case of Brexit suggests about the contradictions of democracy and regionalism in the 21st century? Importantly, what broad lessons may be gleaned from the case for regionalist projects among Commonwealth countries?


Sir Ronald Sanders, Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda, Washington, on The Implications of Brexit for the Caribbean’s Future Relationship with Britain and the EU
The UK Brexit referendum to leave the EU has created concerns internationally, particularly for countries that have formal trade, aid and investment treaties with the EU and none with Britain alone. The notion of a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is a non-starter and would bring no benefits to the Caribbean. But, Britain outside the EU deprives the Caribbean of a sympathetic voice on a range of issues, including financial services, and alters the level of official development assistance that will be available from remaining EU members that have no historical relationship with the English-speaking Caribbean. The importance of the UK as a market for their goods and services make it imperative for Caribbean countries to start early ‘talks’ with London so as not to be crowded out by FTAs that the UK will conclude with countries larger and richer than the Caribbean. At the same time, Brexit provides an opportunity for the Caribbean to revisit its unsatisfactory Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. Caribbean countries need to determine their objectives and take early initiatives to realise them.


Patsy Lewis, University of the West Indies and Brown University, on The Repercussions of Brexit for CARICOM’s Cohesion
Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has sent shockwaves not just within Europe but across the globe. In the Caribbean, it has heightened uncertainty about the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) ability to survive its own fissures, most recently expressed in Jamaica’s decision to review its membership of CARICOM. This article explores some of the challenges CARICOM is experiencing, in particular Jamaica’s dissatisfaction with and position within the group. It argues that despite parallels between Britain and Jamaica and their position in their respective groupings, the rationale for CARICOM is fundamentally different from that underlying the European integration experience. It concludes that CARICOM is unlikely to unfurl because the factors driving the process—small size, global marginality and common challenges—provide a strong impetus for their cohesion.


Peter Clegg, University of the West of England, on Brexit and the Overseas Territories: Repercussions for the Periphery
There are 14 United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs), of which nine are associated with the European Union (EU) via the Overseas Association Decision adopted by the EU in 2013. Gibraltar, meanwhile, is part of the EU under Article 355(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. Only the citizens of Gibraltar were able to vote in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, but the consequences for all are potentially very significant. The UKOTs benefit currently from economic and environmental cooperation, as well as development assistance and policy dialogue. The article considers briefly the growth of the relationship between the UKOTs and the EU, before setting out the key aspects of the relationship which the territories are keen to maintain. The second half of the article focuses on the (minor) role the UKOTs played in the referendum debate, and what might happen to the present levels of cooperation as the UK disengages from the EU.


Derek McDougall, University of Melbourne, on Australia and Brexit: Déjà Vu All Over Again?
Recalling the debate about Britain’s applications to join the European Economic Community in the 1960s, Australians are now reacting to and assessing the implications of the Brexit vote for Australia. However, the contemporary situation is very different from that which prevailed in the 1960s. The article assesses Australian commentary and reactions to Brexit before and after the vote. Taking account of the various possible versions of Brexit, there is an assessment of the range of economic and political-strategic implications for Australia. Whatever the final form of Brexit, Australia will need to foster close relationships with both the UK and the post-Brexit European Union.


Opinion article contributions include David Howell, Frank Field, James Carver and Sir Shridath Ramphal.  

Access is now available to these articles in full at the Journal pages.