I arrived in London 30 hours after the Brexit referendum decided that Britain would set out to leave the European Union. Two days later, a second Brexit occurred when Iceland tossed England out of the European Football Championship.
There has been copious handwringing over both results. Space constraints inhibit me from referring further to the fallout from what one commentator described as “England’s bling-loving stars” out of whom incompetent, but arrogant, management at the national level “suck all the good”.
To provide context for what the Brexit referendum may illustrate for us, I need to explain why the result produced handwringing, even though the referendum, on the face of it, was a democratic process providing citizens with an option to decide individually and directly whether their country should leave or remain in Europe.
A main hook line of the successful Leave campaign was “take back control”, meaning Britons would regain control over their economy, immigration and how far to extend human rights principles.
This line sounded real nice, akin to “is we time now”. It proved deceptive as evidenced by the immediate fall in the value of the British pound, which instantly hurt British summer vacation travellers and British retirees living abroad.
While the business establishment was spinning the drop in the value of the pound as “organised disappointment”—an amusing example of upper crust British understatement—this immediate lesson in global economics made some Leave voters question whether they made the correct choice.
Some confessed to voting Leave as a protest vote, not thinking that the Leave campaign would succeed. Other unsettling events, particularly the simultaneous meltdowns at the top of the Conservative and Labour parties caused by Brexit and the sharp division between young citizens and older ones, contributed to a “gosh have I made a mistake” atmosphere.
The division between the young—who wanted, by and large, to Remain—and the older Leave generation was so sharp that a discussion arose among the young about their voting rights.
Given that the referendum was a means of arriving at a decision with which future generations would have to live, should youth have had two votes each to counterbalance older persons tying up their future?
The leadership meltdown of the Conservative Government, following the immediate resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, brutally exposed the conflicting personal ambitions of the top flight conservative politicians, who used the Brexit referendum as a means of advancing their respective personal ambitions to get rid of Cameron and to become Prime Minister in his place.
I have related the above because it illustrates that, despite the obvious attraction of the referendum as a means of direct citizen-driven decisions, a simple yes or no vote can be greatly complicated or undermined by personal ambition and political opportunism, even in the revered first world.
We already have experience of this in the Caribbean. The 1958 West Indies Federation was buried by a referendum held in Jamaica in 1961. The no vote played on fear that the Federal Government would tax Jamaicans but the referendum in part arose out of the pre-existing rivalry between Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante to be the one to lead an independent Jamaica.
Referenda have resurfaced in the politics of the Caribbean concerning the Caribbean Court of Justice (the CCJ).
In November 2009, the desire of the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, led by Ralph Gonsalves, to join the CCJ was also buried by political rivalry, exacerbated by the fact that the St Vincent referendum was asking citizens to approve a package of new Constitution provisions, of which only one related to the CCJ.
Later this year the Government of Grenada will be holding a referendum on a number of constitutional proposals, one of which is accession to the appellate jurisdiction of the CCJ.
On this occasion, voters will be permitted to vote on the Constitutional provisions individually. It was uncertain whether the main Opposition party of Grenada would take the position that its supporters should reject the entire package, regardless of the option of individual questions, in order to send a message to the Government.
It now appears that the main Opposition party may leave the option of answering the questions individually to the conscience of each voter.
My last column concerned the bail legislation. I acknowledge that it erroneously stated that the anti-gang legislation had already expired and accordingly I also acknowledge that the PNM Government moved in a timely manner in pursuit of renewal of the legislation.
The subsequent failure of the motion to extend the anti-gang and bail legislation has not been well reported because the media was taken up with the death of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning.
Unfortunately, the admittedly grave crisis in the criminal justice system continues. But neither side seems unduly perturbed as they attend the events of State mourning outfitted in their finery, jostling for front row seats.