Many of you like me stayed up last night into the wee hours of the morning to hear the outcome of the UK referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union. It was a “hot button” issue and became increasingly hotter as the date approached. One of the unfortunate casualties of the campaign process was the senseless assassination of a British Member of Parliament, the late Hon. Jo Cox.
I take this opportunity, as I did not do it before, to extend my sympathies to her family, friends, associates and a country who now mourn her loss. I strongly decry this violent perversion of democracy that usually comes from the rhetoric that attends callous political campaigning. Let us continue to be tolerant of the views of others without boisterousness and rancor.
British citizens living in the United Kingdom for the most part have decided that their longstanding and leadership participation in the European Community/Union should now come to an end. The consequential outcome of this must be how they now intend to move forward outside of that arrangement.
Obviously, there is no shortage of views on this issue --- but already the financial response to this decision has manifested itself in the reports that the value of the pound is at its lowest levels since 1985 as well as an estimation of losses of up to 200 billion pounds in the stock market. This may be a temporary situation but it is cause for concern.
At the Joint Ministerial Council Meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last December, I made the intervention that I was concerned that as Overseas Territories we have been hearing about the proposed referendum but that there was no discussion or consultation as to how this might affect us. I was highlighting the fact that even though we would not be participating in the referendum we would be affected by it and should in some way be in the conversation.
What was also ironic was that we had come to understand that the Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories was a proponent of leaving the European Union (EU). It was therefore not surprising that a few short days before the referendum he commented that were the UK to leave the EU the Overseas Territories could be in a good position. Obviously, in the present circumstances many of us would hope that to be the case.
While I am not prepared to express my personal views on the issue in these early stages I would like to respond with some general comments to some of the questions that have been raised to me by a number of our citizens.
Firstly, at this juncture the reality is that the UK Government has been advised through a referendum that the majority of its citizens do not wish to continue into the future as part of the European Union. Because this was the process that the UK Government chose to make that determination, the Prime Minister by virtue of the agreement must now officially convey that decision to the European Commission.
In other words, leaving the EU will not happen today or even within the next few months. It is estimated that these negotiations could take up to two years to be negotiated and consummated. The UK Prime Minister has also indicated that since he was a proponent of remaining he will step down in October to allow another Prime Minister to negotiate the exit arrangements.
Secondly, Anguilla and the other Overseas Territories must now begin to talk about how this future arrangement will impact us. Now that the decision is clear we will need to know where we stand. The fact is that even though we are all Overseas Territories and face similar challenges there are a number of situations that may be unique to Anguilla.
“Off the bat”, I can think of one important situation close to home, which is, how will this affect our relationship with St. Maarten-St. Martin. Obviously, there are many such issues that we and the other OT’s will include in our list of concerns for discussion.
Thirdly, it is inevitable that at some point after the negotiations we will not have an EU passport --- but I expect that we will continue to have a UK passport that will probably afford us the same travel privileges. A number of persons have asked me whether we will still be able to travel to the United States without a visa. While that is completely a matter for the US immigration authorities I would expect that, Britain being one of the closest allies of the United States --- its citizens would continue to enjoy the same privileges extended to citizens of the EU. In this sense --- the status quo should not change.
Fourthly, the EU represents the largest and perhaps only significant source of grant funding under the EDF for Anguilla and the other OT’s. A reasonable concern would be what will happen to our participation in that program once the UK exits the European Union. Obviously, the answer to such questions will be derived from our consultations with the UK Government. However, we can also reasonably expect that the British Government may fill this gap. And an optimistic view could be that such funding is likely increase bearing in mind it will now be coming directly from our administering power rather than through the European Commission.
Fifthly, a number of the international obligations that Britain extends to the OT’s given it membership in the EU may no longer be managed in the same way. I suggest that the views of the OT’s in such instances are more likely to be taken on board in a favourable manner given the UK’s very intimate understanding of our peculiar circumstances.
Finally, we note that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. And it is now being hinted that the Scottish people may now wish to conduct another referendum on the question of Independence. In some sense Scotland can also be regarded as a colony of the UK. Does this in some way suggest that the Overseas Territories may also wish to include a similar option, namely, Independence, in their consultations with the UK Government? The outcome of our deliberations with the administering power therefore promises to be very interesting.
Let me take this opportunity to wish the people of the United Kingdom all the best in the days ahead. This has been described as a historic decision given Britain’s role in the European Community for over forty years. Inevitably, the fact that we were powerless to influence the decision one way or the other --- there will be even more uncertainty and helplessness for the Overseas Territories in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.
May God bless us all.
And may God bless Anguilla.
And may God bless Anguilla.