It is a cliché to say that divorces are messy, but with Britain’s efforts to part ways with the EU, we can also conclude that divorce between countries is no different. We have all gone through the reasons why a majority of Britons chose “Brexit” – chief among them being their gripe that decisions on their “way of life” were being made by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. But actually, nativist fears of being swamped by Eastern Europeans, who could enter Britain freely as citizens of the EU, was more critical. As a member of the EU, Britain could not simply ban those immigrants as they did with “blacks and coloureds” in the 1960s, when similar fears were raised.
But if the majority of Britishers want to exit the EU, what is preventing them from so doing? Fundamentally, the British want to have their cake (leave the EU) and eat it too — not having a “hard” border between Ireland, which is part of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain. This issue has been dubbed “the backstop” for Northern Ireland: having an open border between an EU member country (Ireland) and a British county (Northern Ireland) and not have all of Britain be subject to EU regulations. Which was the raison d’etre for leaving the EU in the first place.
One may ask why not accept the “hard” border between Northern Ireland and Ireland by unilaterally departing? And the answer to this conundrum is this is unacceptable to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, which provide the crucial support for Theresa May’s Conservative Party to continue in Government. The DUP want to continue with their open border with the rest of Ireland. The issue then boils down to pragmatic politics.
While most Conservatives are Brexiteers, there are growing doubts in their ranks about their party leader, May, renegotiating a deal with the EU in time for their January 21 vote for the March 29 Brexit. As it is presently, the deal on the table, from which the EU will not budge, is for the Irish border to remain soft, and be amended solely at the EU’s discretion. But that would result in checks being introduced between the UK and Northern Ireland, and it is feared this may lead to a recurrence of the Irish “troubles” with an effective border in the middle of the Irish Sea.
But what is the takeaway for us from the saga unfolding in the “Mother of Parliaments”? One is an object lesson with the PPPC’s no-confidence motion coming up for debate this coming Friday, Dec 22. In Britain, the members of the PM’s own Conservative party moved a motion of no-confidence against her to signal their disapproval of her handling of the negotiations with the EU. While May won the vote 200 to 117, the exercise demonstrated that in the Parliamentary System of government we practise, members of the Government can act on their principles and vote their consciences.
And this is the issue on the table come Dec 22 in our National Assembly. The PPPC will deliver their arguments as to why the PNC-led coalition Government’s handling of the affairs of the Guyanese state has demonstrated that they are unfit to continue in office. But even more importantly, the just concluded Local Government Elections (LGE) allowed the people of Guyana to signal their opinion about the Government’s capabilities. The PPP won 61 per cent of the popular votes, while the PNC was able to scrape together 34 per cent and the AFC 4 per cent.
While it is true there was a low turnout, the major parties participated in their own name, and the LGE can be seen as a poll on the performance of the PNC. On December 22, it is hoped, all the members of the National Assembly – including Government MPs — will listen to the voice of their people and vote accordingly.
The conventions of parliamentary democracy demand no less.