Why a UK high commissioner is urgent
ALOUN ASSAMBA is right about Jamaica’s laggardly pace in appointing a new high commissioner to Britain. It is seven months since the general election, which Ms Assamba’s party lost, triggering her recall from London.
But urgency for naming a successor rests on more than having someone in place to look after the immediate welfare of the Jamaican diaspora in the United Kingdom (UK), which appears to be the premise on which Ms Assamba is urging the Government to action. There are economic and political matters that are fundamental to the two countries that will have to be dealt with, for which Kingston can better prepare by having a skilled and competent diplomat on the ground.
Indeed, Brexit, or the vote by the British in their June referendum to leave the European Union (EU), is a matter of great importance. Theresa May’s government has not yet, at least publicly, established a clear framework for Brexit and the specific terms of the disengagement will not be known for at least two years after triggering Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to formally start the negotiations.
But Jamaica, and the wider Caribbean Community (CARICOM), for which Kingston has responsibility for external trade negotiations, can’t afford to merely flow with the events. Vital interests are at stake. Jamaica and most CARICOM members have deep historic relations with Britain, of which most, for upwards of 300 years, were colonies. When Britain joined the EU more than 40 years ago, most of the trade and economic partnerships between the UK and its ex-colonies were transferred to Brussels in formal treaties, reflected most recently in the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EU and the CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic).
Interpreted another way, Jamaica and CARICOM/CARIFORUM have no formal trade agreement with Britain. That exists with the EU. While there are bilateral economic-support agreements between Jamaica and Britain, the great bulk of the UK’s assistance is via Brussels.
BACK OF THE QUEUE
In essence, a fair bit of disentanglement will have to take place between Britain and the EU and their relationships with third countries, or group of countries. The danger for small countries or economic groupings like CARICOM and CARIFORUM is that they are left in the margins or pushed to the back of the queue, especially if they are not proactive.
Not only must Jamaica and CARICOM be clear on their own agenda, but they must be aware of emerging thinking in London and Brussels, and insofar as possible be attempting to shape, to their benefit, the post-Brexit environment in either capital. In the UK, for example, there needs to be a grasp of the ideas and emerging visions of critical players like David Davis, the minister with formal charge of the disengagement from Europe; Liam Fox, who is responsible for international trade; and Boris Johnson, the foreign minister. Jamaica, too, should be keen on knowing the policy priorities of Priti Patel, who now has the portfolio for international development.
Some of that work can be done remotely from Kingston with the support of staff in holding positions at the high commission. It is likely to be more effectively accomplished by having in London a well-briefed, properly accredited head of mission who is skilled at building relations and is supported by a competent staff.