Reading the papers in Ireland is becoming somewhat surreal. Almost as surreal as reading the TT papers in Ireland. Ireland you must remember is a postcolonial country, just like Trinidad and Tobago, and was once ruled forcibly by Britain.
Part of Ireland is still in the UK and has been the subject of intense debate around Brexit. The question here has been what will happen to free travel across the border post-Brexit, since one part of Ireland will be in the EU and the other in the UK.
Well that little matter is now resolved to an extent. The UK in its planned exit proposes to guarantee free movement to all EU citizens between Ireland and the UK. Of course this is a great relief to people who live in the North where roads, water and industry are often shared and where one can suddenly find oneself in the UK and just as suddenly be back in the EU within minutes.
But the truly surreal event in these unhappy negotiations is the attitude of Great Britain, summed up by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, who said last week: “The UK wants to take back control, it wants to adopt its own standards and regulations, but it also wants to have these standards recognised automatically in the EU. That is what the UK papers ask for. This is simply impossible.”
He believes that the UK won’t face up to the implications of leaving the EU, nor does it understand that this exit comes at a price.
Britain is fast assuming the look of an arrogant senior citizen who refuses to accept that the world and her position in it has changed. In fact, as Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its independence from Great Britain, I was reminded of my youth when we sang God Save the Queen and recited Rule, Britannia. In those days we were brainwashed into believing that all things British were best and that as Caribbean people and children of the Empire we were welcome on Britain’s shores.
That many migrated there and now form part of the population and citizenry speaks to this belief. But the attitude to those who are non-English, or whose ancestry is not of those shores, has remained an issue and is, of course, part of the reason that the majority of voters opted to leave the EU.
Yet, despite history’s lessons, we of the Caribbean still fervently believe that Shakespeare is the greatest poet and playwright. Our ideals are still in many ways British. We still see Britain as the hallmark of civilisation. The problem is, so do the British.
The EU 27 leaders are determined, however, to put Britain in her place and “not to let Britain off the hook.” This includes forcing them to honour a legal and moral obligation to pay what is being called the “divorce bill” or exit bill, that could range anywhere between 25 billion to 80 billion euro. The mood in Europe is that the perceived ingrained chauvinism of the former empire simply cannot be allowed to continue.
As former British colonies, those of the previous generation grew up with these beliefs of the superior rights of Britain and the inferiority of others. It was part of our education as good citizens and we recited poems and sang songs that ingrained these perspectives into our psyches.
Brexit opens the door to a new way of looking at our own condition in relation to history. Perhaps Independence Day may at some stage bring with it a better understanding of how these attitudes have shaped our own insecurities and inability to govern ourselves.