Much is at stake for British Prime Minister David Cameron who has set June 23, 2016 as the day when the UK will vote in a referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union (EU), or leave. The UK has been on the margins of the EU both literally and metaphorically from the outset. It retains its own currency rather than adopting the euro and is not as legislatively bound to the Brussels parliament as other member states. The British, about whom it is unwise to have a homgenised perception in these days of devolved powers to the members of the Union, are to put it mildly, ambivalent about EU membership — with an anecdotally reported number who could not care less either way. But for the politicians and members of the British parliament the next four months are going to be consumed by the Great EU Debate. So should it matter to Pakistan?
Given that immigration and migration are an aspect of the EU debate then yes, it very much matters to Pakistan. There are close historical and trade linkages with the UK, and not for nothing does the British Foreign Office administer its largest overseas mission in the world in Islamabad. The UK is amongst the largest exporters to Pakistan with over 100 British companies physically operating here. In 2014, UK goods exported to Pakistan were worth £618 million. Bilateral trade in goods and services increased from £1.9 billion in 2009 to 2.2 billion in 2013. The health, or otherwise, of the British economy has a linkage to our own. We also trade with the EU, which is Pakistan’s most important and largest trading partner accounting for 21.2 per cent of our total exports and 16.6 per cent of our total imports. Changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU, distant as they may seem, may affect Pakistan in ways yet unseen — for good or ill. For the UK and the ruling Conservative Party, the referendum, whatever the outcome, is going to be profoundly divisive. Democracy — never a model for the tidiest of solutions.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2016.
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