I apologise to my good friend Ian McDonald for the delay in responding to his commentary piece in the Sunday Stabroek of 10 September (‘Brexit’). I was on leave in the UK with my parents.
He will not, I am sure, be surprised to hear that I do not agree with his comments on Brexit and the likelihood of a ‘less Great’ Britain – well made as they are.
In June 2016 the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union. The majority in favour of leaving was 1,269,501 votes (17,410,742 people voted leave, 16,141,241 voted remain) on a turnout of 72.2%. In percentage terms 51.89% of people voted to leave and 48.11% to remain, ie a majority of 3.78%. I’m not sure I would agree that was “a very narrow margin”. But regardless the people have spoken and the British Government is duty bound to respect their wishes. That is the nature of democracy.
In a speech in Florence on 22 September, Prime Minister Theresa May set out how the UK will be the strongest friend and partner to the EU after we leave. But she was also clear that the nature of the relationship will change. The speech set out a clear and pragmatic approach; one designed to help secure an agreement that works for all. It changed the dynamic of the discussions and has instilled real momentum. The Prime Minister said:
“I look ahead with optimism, believing that if we use this moment to change not just our relationship with Europe, but also the way we do things at home, this will be a defining moment in the history of our nation … Indeed, we want to be your [the EU’s] strongest friend and partner as the EU, and the UK thrive side by side.”
Of course the process of leaving is complicated. This has never been done before. But to assume the worst is to lack vision and creativity of the opportunities which exist for us all.
The UK does not aspire to an unimaginative choice between a relationship based on membership of the European Economic Area, or a traditional Free Trade Agreement. Such a choice does not recognise the fundamentally different position the UK and EU find themselves in. We start from a position of strong alignment.
The UK has exactly the same rules and regulations as the EU. So the process starts from an unprecedented position.
Five rounds of negotiations have taken place, progress is being made. The UK and many of our partners across Europe are keen to ensure that dynamism and progress continues.
The UK has made clear that we will meet our financial obligations and honour our commitments to the EU. We will continue to want to work closely with our EU friends on programmes that promote our shared values, that promote science, education and culture, and that promote our mutual security.
As the Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 09 October:
“a new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends … Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU … So while progress will not always be smooth; by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way – in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future – I believe we can prove the doomsayers wrong.”
The trade relationship between the UK and Guyana/the Caribbean is very much at the forefront of our minds. We will work to ensure there is a transition in trading relationships and agreements. This will ensure there is no ‘cliff-edge’ in the trading relationship. On day one after Brexit things should operate exactly as they do now. That is also to all of our benefits.
Economically we should avoid pessimism. The UK is the EU’s largest trading partner, (and vice versa). We are one of the largest economies in the world. We have a legal system respected around the world. We are open to foreign investment. We encourage innovation. The UK is an easy place to do business. We have a talent for creativity and some of the best universities in the world. That will not change after Brexit. The UK will remain an advocate for free and equitable trade – indeed we will become an even more fervent advocate.
Our task, indeed our obligation, is to get this right. In that I am confident we will succeed. There are some who look at Brexit and believe it means the end of the UK. Indeed there are some who would like to see nothing better than for that to happen. I hate to disappoint them. The UK will remain an advocate for the rules based system internationally; will support democracy and human rights around the world; will be an advocate for free trade; will continue to meet our obligations to spend 0.7% of GDP on development; will work for the security of friends and allies; and will remain a major military power.
In short the UK is here to stay.
British High Commissioner
British High Commission