Britain is going to the polls on June 23 to decide whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU) and the question that I would like us to consider today is what would happen to the Africa-EU relationship in the event of a #BREXIT?
How will a #BREXIT impact the Africa-EU relationship?
This question matters because, the relationship between Africa and the EU is as old as the EU itself and has evolved as new members joined. In 1958, France, Italy, German, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg formed a commercial association and agreed to give their former colonies access to the then European Economic Community (EEC) markets on a reciprocal regime.
In 1979 Britain joined the EEC, bringing with it African Commonwealth countries including those in the Caribbean and Pacific and in 1995 a contractual agreement that entitled these countries to assistance was established.
That is a long time ago and the relationship has evolved in many ways. I am however unclear as to the ways if at all, a #BREXIT would affect and effect that relationship. For instance, would the EU’S relationship with Commonwealth countries come to an end in the event of a BREXIT? If not where will that leave Britain ?
Will Britain for instance have to renegotiate trade agreements with the various African Intergovernmental bodies (ECOWAS, EAC, SADC)? An Economic Partnership Agreement or EPA has already been concluded with some of those countries namely, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa. Will Britain continue to benefit from this particular EPA in the event of a #BREXIT?
What does Britain stand for?
This question is pertinent to the question as to what would come after a #BREXIT and various people including President Obama have had a go at answering this question and so have citizens of the Commonwealth
For instance on my recent visit to Uganda, I was engaged on the issue of a #BREXIT by a range of people. Typically these people wanted to know whether Britain would actually leave the EU and if so why
There is no way of knowing the answer to such a question and naturally I answered it from the point of view of my preferred option, which is that Britain will vote to remain in. In my opinion, the implications for leaving are huge namely the potential breakup of the United Kingdom, the unravelling of the EU and potential turmoil in world markets etc.
A group of urban lawyers disagreed with me on the last two points. They argued that Britain was no longer as important globally as it would like to think and that, that space was now occupied by Institutions such as the EU as well as by countries like India and china
They further argued that leaving the EU would compound this situation for Britain. This is because Britain’s relevance in today’s global affairs is directly linked to its membership of the EU. They further argued that
The EU and the world economy do not need Britain to thrive or grow. And anyway,what does Britain stand for these days? What are you guys good at?
I must admit to being lost for words at this stage. I was stunned into disbelief. Did these people truly believe that Britain was no longer relevant on the global stage?
Is Britain still relevant to its former colonies, in what ways?
A point that has been made over and over again in the discussions about a #BREXIT, is that citizens of the Commonwealth are no longer able to access Britain. In addition, that Africa’s farmers have suffered because of Britain’s membership of the EU.
With respect to the Commonwealth citizens being able to access Britain, the argument that has been advanced is that, Britain has neglected her relationship with Commonwealth countries in Africa as a direct consequence of its membership of the EU.
This is because, Britain cannot control migration from the EU and therefore in order to reduce overall immigration into Britain, Commonwealth citizens’ access to Britain is restricted. The perception of those calling for an exit, is that if Britain were to leave the EU, this situation would be reversed.
The extent to which this assertion is true with respect to African countries is open to debate and would require an examination of existing data relating to for instance, how many Africans have successfully obtained a two year Commonwealth Youth or Ancestry visa in the past and currently compared to say Canadians, Australians or even white South Africans
As regards to African farmers, a question has been asked as to whether Britain would be more effective at fighting for the rights of African farmers if it was no longer part of the European union (EU). I don’t believe that this would be the case. This is because British farmers would have lost their subsidies from the EU under the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The implication of this are not clear at this point in time but I would like to assume that Britain would prioritise British farmers over African farmers.
In fact, it is my opinion that African farmers will be worse off in the event of a #BREXIT due to protectionism that is produced by CAP and elsewhere in the world and in particular under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
Is Britain still relevant to its former colonies?
What do you think?