I am sure you have seen the outcome of last week’s referendum, in which the people of the UK voted to leave the European Union. You may be asking yourselves ‘how does this impact me?’ Let me try to answer that question.
The U.K’s exit from the E.U.
First and foremost, contrary to what you may have heard about the referendum being just advisory, Prime Minister David Cameron has been clear: the people have spoken and their decision must be delivered. The U.K. is proud of its democratic tradition and our respect for the decision of the British people reflects that.
It is important to emphasise that nothing will change immediately.
The formal process of leaving the E.U. will take two years from the date when the U.K. triggers Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Prime Minister Cameron has made clear that it will be for his successor to decide when to trigger Article 50 – so the start of the two year period will not be before September, when David Cameron steps down.
Until negotiations on our exit are complete, the U.K. is still a member of the E.U., with the same rights and obligations as any other member state. This means the U.K. will continue to engage on all existing E.U. business and of course we’ll remain active in Samoa through the E.U. Development Fund (E.D.F) which does so much to support Samoa’s economic welfare. You may know that the U.K. currently contributes over 15% to all E.D.F spend.
Our relationship with Samoa
It is too early to predict how the U.K‘s contribution to E.D.F funds might be re-allocated when the U.K. leaves the E.U. But whatever happens, our commitment to our bilateral relationship with Samoa will continue. That relationship is historic and enduring, and it will remain for future generations. We are committed to you, a Commonwealth country, across a broad and deep spectrum of issues that bring us together; to build the bedrock of a stable and prosperous society.
So as a Commonwealth and bilateral partner, we will continue to partner you to support:
• Your Economy and Business. By contributing to your economic recovery and using UK technology, services and expertise to help build a low carbon economy. We will help you meet international economic rules and standards with an emphasis on transparency and addressing corruption to make Samoa more competitive in the global market.
• Your Democracy and Human Rights: By working with you to embed democratic values and good governance not just in Samoa but across the South Pacific. I don’t need to remind you that an inclusive and tolerant society is critical to prosperity.
• Your Security: By supporting conflict prevention in the region and helping to mitigate the effects of climate change in the most vulnerable areas. And by continuing to work with our international friends to promote global security in fora like the UN and Commonwealth. As a diplomat, I and my team will remain active on the ground in Samoa; be it through our membership of S.P.R.E.P, our advocacy of human rights, good governance and democracy, or via our development or education programmes such as www.chevening.org (a quick plug to young professionals wanting to study in the U.K. - the window for applications opens in a few months).
I expect some of you will also have wondered what the U.K’s decision may mean for U.K. and Samoa immigration arrangements. Please let me reassure you that there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of British citizens living neither in the E.U. nor for E.U. citizens in the U.K. Nor will there be any immediate changes to visa requirements for Samoan citizens looking to travel, work or study in the U.K.
UK support to Small Island Developing States
The Commonwealth, with 53 members and a common commitment to democracy, tolerance and the rule of law, binds us together in mutual friendship and respect.
Our values with other Commonwealth countries and like minded friends set us apart from those who do not share a commitment to democracy, global stability and a sustainable future.
With a sustainable future and our shared values in mind, Prime Minister Cameron at a Commonwealth Heads of State meeting last year announced a series of initiatives to support the sustainable livelihoods of Small Island Developing States (S.I.D.S). One of these initiatives included £5.6 million funding in 2016 alone, to help S.I.D.S develop their maritime economies.
By sharing lessons learnt on ocean management, and supporting you to develop plans for response to disasters, and strengthening best practice in conservation and fisheries management, we hope that Samoa and other SIDS will be able to balance the exploitation of maritime resources with marine protection and ensure a better future for generations to come.
The U.K’s Place in the world
As Prime Minister David Cameron has said, the U.K is a great trading nation. Britain is an open, outward-facing, engaged country. We will continue to be a prominent voice on the world stage. As well as the Commonwealth, we are a member of the U.N. Security Council, of N.A.T.O, of the G7 and the G20. We are the only major country in the world today which simultaneously meets the N.A.T.O target of spending 2% of our G.D.P on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of our G.N.I. on development. We will continue to work with our friends and allies, including Samoa, to tackle the threats to security which affect both our countries to ensure the best chance for a sustainable future.
And while we are leaving the E.U., we are not turning our backs on Europe: the countries of the EU are our neighbours, our friends, our allies, our partners, and we will seek the closest possible relationship in terms of trade, cooperation and security, because that is good for us and that is good for them.
I hope by writing this that you will be reassured that nothing has changed in the relationship between the UK and Samoa. I believe that in the future our relationship will go from strength to strength.
If you would like to share your thoughts with me directly, please do so via Twitter @jwrsinclair.