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Tuesday 20 August 2019
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Beyond Brexit

THE ASSURANCE from the European Union (EU) that, either way, Britain’s effort to secure an exit from the EU will not impact visa requirements for Trinidad and Tobago nationals might make some breathe a sigh of relief. But the political turmoil currently engulfing Westminster, as well as the uncertainty facing Europe as a whole, reminds us that electorates have a direct stake in international affairs and should, therefore, be more proactive in speaking up and holding governments to account on foreign policy.

There is something to be said for the old view that foreign policy is properly for the executive. The executive has access to the resources needed to understand the nuances of international relations and the global economy. The executive is also charged with ruling impartially, on the basis of the national interest, and not pursuant to xenophobia and irrational prejudices. It has a pool of qualified public servants to advise it on matters that may be sensitive or outside of the public domain.

But what the UK’s Brexit experience has demonstrated is how foreign policy positions have a huge impact on the quality of life of the ordinary citizen. Just two pages were devoted to the EU in the Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto. Today, all of British politics has been seemingly consumed by this single issue. For good reasons.

If it did not recognise it before, the UK electorate now sees clearly how the legal and diplomatic issues involved affect its economy, its healthcare system, its borders, and even the stability of its political union.

British MPs yesterday emphatically voted against an attempt to hold another referendum, a move which preserves the sanctity of the original process notwithstanding question marks over misleading campaign statements and possibly unlawful conduct by key parties. It seems no matter how divided the UK political landscape, all agree that the will of the people is sacrosanct.

Yet, how exactly is “the will of the people” to be defined? For practical reasons, not every decision of a government can be subject to a plebiscite. Westminster has long offered a practical alternative: elected representatives who, in theory, vote according to the wishes of constituents.

While the defeat of May’s attempts to secure a “soft” Brexit – one which retains elements of EU trade relations – has now opened up dramatically unsavoury possibilities, the entire week’s voting has been an example of Parliament doing what it does best: giving MPs and their constituents a say.

Where the UK will end up is not clear. But this country, even with its visa arrangements intact, should take note and should join the rest of the world in bracing for economic and social fallout.

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