This is the fourth year in a row I visited the United Kingdom to test public opinion on the issue of Brexit, an issue critical to Guyanese and Caribbean Britons and other immigrant groups (like the Indian community) settled in the United Kingdom. The association of the UK (Britain) with the European Union (EU) has been on the minds of Guyanese, Indians and other Britons – somehow believing that their tax dollars are subsidizing the rest of Europe and reducing their quality of life (taking money from them and giving to Europeans). Evidence does not fully substantiate this view.
Shockingly, in 2015 and 2016, I was taken aback by the amount of support for Brexit among (more well to do) Guyanese (including Indo-Guyanese), other Caribbean, and Indian (from India) Britons. Several Indian Members of Parliament and community leaders and immigrant politicians (from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean) led the charge in favor of Brexit in the referendum in 2016. Large percentage of Guyanese based in my own informal polling. The Labor Party largely opposed Brexit while the Conservative Party was divided on the issue. More Guyanese support Labor than Conservative. The outcome of Brexit vote was close almost 51-49. The defeat in the Brexit vote forced the Prime Minister David Cameron (who opposed Brexit) to resign leading to Theresa May becoming Prime Minister. May has been leading the negotiations to exit the Union to which the U.K joined in 1971. She negotiated an agreement last week.
If a referendum were to be held now on Brexit, opponents would pull off a narrow victory as many who did not vote in 2016 would vote now against Brexit; young people are worried about jobs and rising prices. But of those who voted in 2016, opinions have not changed much. Hardly any Guyanese and immigrant people opposed to Brexit that I spoke with this week have changed their mind on the issue. They still insist that they have to pay a lot of taxes to provide for the well being of poor Europeans and want to break from the union. Facts do not support their argument. The UK gets back a huge amount of the funds it provides to the EU.
As I travel around England over the last week conversing with Guyanese, other Caribbean people, other immigrants, and indigent UK nationals about the pace of implementing Brexit, opinions have not changed much from the narrow victory of the referendum held in 2016 in favor of UK exiting the European Union. As we all know by now, Gina Singh Miller, a Guyanese, daughter of former Attorney General Doodnauth Singh, has led the battle against a hard Brexit. She took the government to court in 2016 after the Brexit vote arguing that since Parliament approved the treaty in 1971 with the European Union, then Parliament must first give consent to invoke a divorce from the EU. The Court agreed with her and parliament has given its assent to break f on EU.
Gina Miller is a household name in UK and cause célèbre against hard Brexit. She campaigned in the 2017 general elections and raised funds for candidates who support a soft Brexit. Her endorsed candidates did very well defeating several hard Brexit candidates and denying Prime Minister Theresa May a majority in parliament. Ms. May depends on right wing ultra nationalist MPs for political survival. Her government may not last the year over her Brexit proposal that was negotiated with the EU last week. She is trying to sell it to her Conservative Party with almost a third of her MPs opposed to it. Even her cabinet is divided on the issue. Several resigned and others plan to resign. But she also picked up key endorsements. In addition, the Labor Party is opposed to it. Ms. May was hoping Labor would bail her out. But this is not likely to happen. A debate on the latest Brexit proposal will commence next week. And a vote will be taken on December 11. It can be withdrawn as is being advised by several of Mrs May’s Conservative Party members and former Ministers. If she loses the vote, she will be forced to resign. In such an eventuality, former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson could be PM as he is emerging as the leading contender; Johnson, who supports a hard Brexit, resigned earlier this year over the pace of Brexit. Early elections are expected (term of parliament ends in 2022) if there is a change in PM.
The divorce from Europe is turning out to be very difficult and costly. Guyanese and well-to-do Indian Britons say the latest proposal by Mrs. May has given the EU too much over Brexit. They won’t mind to see her go. Based on the treaty, the UK has to compensate the EU many billions of pounds and provide other trade benefits over a few years before Brexit is complete. There is also an intractable ethnic problem over Ireland – Northern Ireland is part of UK and there is an open border with the Republic of Ireland which is part of EU (itself an open border); neither side really likes the Irish agreement but simply does not know how to fix it.
It is going to be a tough period of public relations for Prime Minister May as she travels around UK meeting workers, business groups, community leaders, and politicians to sell Brexit. And in parliament, it will be a hard sell. If support is lacking among MPs, she will withdraw the proposal and may even resign or seek a referendum on the issue. That would please many Guyanese, Caribbean, and Indian Britons who don't support the PM.