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By Dr Kwesi Atta Sakyi 16th June 2016
Shakespeare posed the question succinctly when he quipped, ‘To be or not to be; that is the question’. Charles Dickens also wrote his Great Expectations later on. The UK residents and nationals are on a cusp of making a great decision for their own future whose repercussions will be felt far and wide because now more than ever, we live in a small interdependent global village.
Eurocrats and Britocrats with solid educational backgrounds in classics, diplomacy, and international relations, and formidable credentials from the finest schools and colleges in Europe such as Eton, Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge, among others are anxiously sitting on edge as they keenly await the outcome of the 23rd June 2016 referendum to decide whether the UK should exit the EU or stay within it. A UK exit will mean a loss of thousands of jobs among the Eurocrats in many EU institutions located in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg, the termination of various business contracts, and perhaps a backlash of slapping heavy tariffs against UK exports to Europe.
Of course, in that event, the UK would look further afield to other parts of the world such as North and South America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa for more business and trade opportunities. A stay within EU will maintain the status quo ante, and it will be business as usual. The issues at stake in this referendum include the issue of British sovereignty, the security and safeguarding of the sacrosanctity of the almighty British pound sterling, maintaining the quintessential British identity from invasion of hordes of refugees and migrants from across the Channel, raising the bar for future UK-EU relationship, financial freedom from being a universal donor to the EU, restoring and strengthening ties within the Commonwealth and with old time UK allies and trading partners, exploiting the new emerging markets in Africa and Asia, further afield from Europe, among other considerations.
Many UK taxpayers and Euro-sceptics will heave a sigh of relief if the UK exits the EU because there is the perception that the UK loses more money being in the EU than being out of it, so an exit will be a good riddance as it will save about 14 billion pounds annually of hard-won taxpayers’ money. Chatham House estimates that the UK loses 350 million pounds weekly for being in the EU, which translates to about 18 billion pounds annually. The EU subsidies to the UK are surmised to be about 4 billion pounds annually. The net loss on paper ostensibly is a huge accounting loss. Of course, there are many incalculable and hidden social, political, and social benefits which the UK derives from her membership of the EU such as retired UK soldiers and civilians retiring to places such as the Riviera in France, Costa del Sol in Spain, Florence, Venice, Naples, Genoa, and Milan in Italy, among many others. UK students can easily traverse Europe when on holiday, among others. For instance, the EU stringent, albeit, stifling trade standard, could be impetus for efficiency, competition, and innovation.
Many Euro-sceptics hope that savings from an EU exit can be reallocated to priority areas such as increased funding to UK Aid agencies such as Oxfam, the British Council, improving and providing victuals to bolster sagging and floundering Commonwealth Relations and Commonwealth scholarships, VSO, DFID, among others. On the home front, the savings can be channelled to beefing up Medicare, pensions, social welfare, job creation for many UK youths, research and innovation, expansion of the UK’s industrial base, among others. Many watchers hope an exit from the EU will assert the UK once more as the Workshop of the World (perhaps challenge China), and it will help her regain her former glory. They say if wishes were horses beggars would ride.
Since the beginning of the EU referendum debate, new words have been bandied around such as Euro-sceptics, Euro-centrics, Europhobes, Europhiles, Euroeccentrics, Euroerotics, Euroscopics, Euroneurotics, Euroseniles, Eurosophers, Eurojuveniles, among many others. But at the end of the day, we hope there would be enough light at the end of the Eurotunnel should the Eurostar fast cars or bullet trains beam their search lights across the channel- tunnel in both directions.
A reflection on the UK relationship with the EU since 1973 will show that the association has not been an easy one as Germany, France, and the UK have often jostled for hegemony of the EU. However, it is said that when two elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers. Since the UK joined the EU, her relationship with the Commonwealth countries in Africa and the Caribbean has suffered untold hardships such as downgrading preferred partners, cutting aid drastically, preventing Africans from having easy access to the UK market by Africans, stringent immigration laws against Africans following the EU policies, among many other negatives. Africans have been relegated to the backburner, yet the UK was built from the empire days by the sweat, toil, and wealth from across the empire on which the sun never set, stretching from India to Canada, Australia to Sri Lanka, South Africa to Caledonia, among others. Thus, ex-colonies feel neglected and abandoned.
Many analysts in Africa feel that the UK has not shown concern and gratitude to Commonwealth countries, but rather, the UK has decided to support the pan-Euro agenda to better the lives of many Europeans who have been at the margins of wealth. On the domestic front, many UK residents and nationals feel their government has betrayed them by abandoning them to policies made in other foreign capitals which benefit the greater good of Europe but which do no good to many inhabitants of the UK and the narrow public interest of the UK.
Of course, the EU protocols allow for free movement of EU citizens, free movement of goods and capital, freedom to settle and work in any EU country, among others. This arrangement has unfortunately seemed to be lop-sided and has rather benefited other EU countries more than it has benefited UK citizens because the UK citizens will rather holiday in Thailand, Africa or the Caribbean rather than in many places in Europe. Many jobs formerly done by blacks from Africa and the Caribbean have been taken up at slightly high cost by migrants from Europe who have right of stay, and as it were, right of way.
With the demise of the Cold War in 1990 and having achieved stability in Europe after the Balkanised Balkans, perhaps this is the opportune time to pay more attention to Africa which has become the last frontier of the emerging regions of the world. Markets in Europe are saturated as the axis of business has moved to Asia. The next frontier to open up is Africa with a population of about a billion. Africa is such a huge tantalising and lucrative market waiting to be exploited.
As of now, the UK is not a member of the Schengen free movement or visa free arrangement which is among 22 EU members and 4 EFTA members namely, Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland. Had the UK become part of the Schengen visa arrangement, former colonies in Africa could have had rub-on effect. Had the UK joined the euro currency in 2002, equally her former colonies such as Ghana would have had easier access to the Eurocurrency and EU market without facing high tariffs.
However, EU policies are extremely restrictive as they limit EU countries to do a greater portion of their trade within the EU, following the economic principles of trade creation, trade diversion, and preferential treatment for trading bloc members. Somehow, these principles go contrary to WTO injunctions. The EU has a raft of discriminatory trade laws and prohibitive bureaucratic and technical requirements for those non-members who want to trade with them. This collective one- size-fits- all arrangement is sometimes overbearing, to say the least.
It is like the proverbial Ghanaian story of the relationship between the bird and the chicken. When the chicken gets food on the ground, the bird comes to partake in it. However, when the bird gets food, it perches on a tall tree and politely invites the chicken to come upstairs to partake in the spoils. Unfortunately for the chicken, it is a non-zero sum relationship game of win-lose which is heavily tilted only in one direction against it. The UK’s exit would lead to a situation of a J-curve effect as it will get worse before it gets better. The UK citizens who wear the shoe know where it pinches and they will do the needful come 23rd June, 2016. At this juncture, and on a lighter note, I am reminded of an old time kindergarten song, ‘Make new friends, but keep the old, One is silver and the other is gold’.
Many Europhiles would perceive a UK exit as a stab in the back of Anglo-Euro friendship which has grown, blossomed, and reached a point of consummation like the proverbial friendships in the bible of David and Jonathan, Shakespeare’s romantic Bassano and Antonio in the Merchant of Venice, Damon and Pythias ultra fidelity in Greek mythology, among others. A betrayal of the EU by voting overwhelmingly to opt out in the 23rd June Referendum would be like Macbeth doing a dastardly act to his king, Duncan, or it would be like Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, being haunted by the apparitions of his murdered father- King who appeared to warn him.
Europhiles would rather cherish seeing a Rule Britannia floating out to the seven seas to rule the waves, rather than seeing a pan-Euro goddess, Hera Monetera, calling the shots from the sky where she hovers over the great rivers in Europe which traverse the continental landscape. To the grand finale, and on the one hand, if the UK chooses to play solitaire by opting out, some countries in the Commonwealth would jubilate while Pan-Europeans would rue the prospect of a disintegrating Europe, and they would fear the possible domino effect on the remaining members.
On the other hand, if citizens of the UK vote to stay in the EU, it would not change anything in the equation, and business would go on as usual. Europhiles would celebrate being in one happy family, and they would paper over the crags on the façade. It would be to them like Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland, or like J.J. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or like Irving Washington’s Rip Van Winkle waking up from a supposedly night’s sleep to in fact find he had slept for 20 years as a result of quaffing one too many of the pewters of wine downed from the kegs provided by the dwarfs playing the game of nine pins. Should UK citizens shy away from playing Tartuffe or solitaire, then many in Africa would be disappointed but not ruined because as they say, East, West, Home best.
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