On December 12, 2019, voters in the United Kingdom (UK) will go to the polls for the third time in five years. However, of the two previous elections in this period, the upcoming polls are the most decisive. This is the case because the outcome would determine the UK’s future relationship with the European Union (EU) and shape its place in the world for decades to come.
Notwithstanding the many parties in the race, this election is mainly a fight between the Conservatives and Labour. Nevertheless, the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats may very well put up a stern enough challenge to ensure that their voices are not discounted in the post-election discourse, both on Brexit and with respect to the UK’s global posture.
Fundamentally, the upcoming UK election is about Brexit. For Brexit backers, a Conservative victory is the likeliest path to the UK leaving the EU. In Prime Minister Johnson’s own words, a win for his Conservative party represents the best chance to “get Brexit done” since a sizeable parliamentary majority would present him with an opportunity to get his Brexit deal through parliament.
However, a win for Labour creates an opening for ‘remainers’ or pro-EU voters to at best stop Brexit or at worst, deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit given the party’s commitment to renegotiate Johnson’s Brexit deal and give voters a final say on leaving the EU through a second referendum.
Regarding the UK’s place in the world, both the Conservatives and Labour have articulated their respective vision for the UK’s global role after the polls. According to the Conservative manifesto, “Getting Brexit done will allow us to do more on the international stage.” This would be made possible by, among other things, moves to strengthen international institutions and bolster old and new partnerships across the world. For Labour, visiting fellow at the Chatham House, Richard Whitman, describes its manifesto as being expansive on promises for what the party terms a “new internationalism” which would prioritise issues such as human rights, international law and tackling climate change.
Irrespective of whether the UK continues to be part of the EU, its importance to the CARICOM region will not diminish anytime soon. On trade, CARICOM countries have exported over US$1.2 billion in goods to the UK over the past three years. The UK is also an important source market for tourism, it is one of the region’s traditional development partners and for many years, thousands of CARICOM nationals have made their livelihoods in the UK. In light of this, the upcoming election is as much a defining moment for the UK as it is for the CARICOM region because decisions taken after December 12 will impact us in one way or another.
Fortunately, certain things are already in place to minimise any negative fallout from decisions taken in London and in Brussels after the upcoming election. For one, where trade is concerned, CARICOM, through the Caribbean Forum (CARICOM + the Dominican Republic) has already concluded a trade agreement with the UK which rolls over the provisions of the existing CARIFORUM-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) to ensure that there is continuity in the trading relationship regardless of what happens on Brexit. The UK has also expanded its diplomatic network across the Caribbean, a move which is set to ensure that the region benefits from a more “international” UK.
Finally, while much of the focus leading up to the election has been on Brexit, there should also be some focus on the internal debates, such as on immigration and the socio-economic organisation of British society. On immigration for example, the Conservatives have pledged to cut the number of people migrating to the UK, especially the number of “unskilled” migrants. On socio-economic issues, the Labour leader in particular is a self-described socialist with visions of implementing so-called radical-left economic policies such as re-nationalising industries. To what extent will Caribbean nationals be impacted by any crackdown on immigration? Can Corbyn’s vision of socio-economic organisation give new impetus to regional discourse on the role of the state in the socio-economic life of its citizens? Only time will tell.