As the United Kingdom goes to the polls Thursday to decide on whether it will stay in the European Union, many British residents in Cayman have already cast their postal votes and are waiting to see what the country decides.
Billed as the most important vote for Britons in half a century, the “Brexit” referendum has divided the country, with polls suggesting an even split between the “remain” and “leave” camps.
Led by British Prime Minister David Cameron, those in favor of staying in the EU argue that Britain faces a recession of its own making if it votes to leave the largest single market in the world. Rival campaigners, led by former London mayor Boris Johnson, say the EU has ballooned into a sprawling, undemocratic bureaucracy and claim a vote to leave will give the U.K. government more power to control immigration.
Projections suggest that 46.5 million people have registered to vote out of a population of 64 million.
Among those who have already cast postal votes are hundreds of British expatriates living in the Cayman Islands. Anyone registered to vote in any U.K. election within the last 15 years was eligible to vote. (The deadline has now passed.)
Nicholas Dixey, a British lawyer who works with Nelson and Company in Grand Cayman, cast his vote several weeks in advance and will be avidly following coverage of the results Thursday night.
He said it is a high-stakes decision for the people of the U.K., with intriguing arguments on both sides.
“What is for certain is that the decision on Thursday is a huge political decision with enormous consequences. A vote to leave may bring down the government, cause a currency crash, and also could put the country on course to a second Scottish Independence vote,” he said. “On the other hand, a leave vote may instead usher in a bright new world where Britain once again is truly independent, optimistic and free to make its own laws and trade deals and stand on its own two feet, empowering its citizens and inspiring other nations.”
For former Cayman Islands Monetary Authority Chairman Tim Ridley, the decision is more clear cut. He believes the U.K.’s economic prosperity depends on staying in the European Union and retaining access to the common market.
“I find it hard to countenance the U.K. leaving the EU. I hope common sense will prevail,” he said.
“Those Little Englanders in favor of Brexit have no sense of history or sensible idea of the future,” he said. “The leavers make some dangerous assumptions as to what any deal with the EU might look like. Britain’s future firmly lies within the EU, and she should work much harder to be at the top table and to influence outcomes, and not sit whinging outside the tent.”
For the Cayman Islands, he said, the vote will not make much difference either way, though he suggests, on balance, Cayman is better served with the U.K. in the European Union.
Across the Cayman Islands, political enthusiasts and regular Brits will be tuning in to round-the-clock news coverage, with a result expected in the early hours of Friday.
Matthew Sloane, a Liverpudlian who has lived in the Cayman Islands for more than six years, believes the decision is one that will impact the U.K. and its citizens for generations to come. He cast his vote several weeks ago for Britain to remain in the EU.
“I think some people believe we can just leave the most powerful economic union in the world and start re-creating the British empire and go planting flags all over the world again,” said Mr. Sloane, who works with Hurley’s Media.
“A lot of people have not taken the time to study the issues or think about the repercussions and are voting on emotion or perceived concerns about immigration. Basically, it is a fairly simple economic decision. I think it was irresponsible to have a referendum because you are asking people who don’t have the ability or the information to make a decision that will impact the country for generations. It was an incredibly bad call.”
Ted Todd, a mathematics teacher at John Gray High School, is another British expatriate firmly in the remain camp.
“Just because there are a few problems at the moment, it does not mean that we should throw a tantrum and get up and leave — this is the easy way out,” he said.
“As a teacher, we always encourage our students to look for challenges and accept them even if they are difficult, to work together with other students to overcome obstacles and learn together in the spirit of cooperation, and learn how to interact successfully with one another. I would urge the voters tomorrow to accept the challenges head on, work within the current framework to effect change for the better and not to simply run away.”
After controversy at the 2015 general election, when many overseas voters were left disenfranchised because ballot papers did not arrive on time, the process appears to have gone smoothly this time.
Christine Cooke, who was denied the opportunity to vote in the general election, said she had received her papers and cast her vote weeks in advance.
“I am happy to say I was able to take part this time,” she said.
Some of the pre-referendum debate has centered on whether those who chose to leave the U.K. should be able to participate, or if the franchise should be extended further to all British citizens, regardless of how long they have been out of the U.K.
Karen Perkins, a company director with Maples FS, believes expatriates should exercise their right to be involved.
“I think it is very important for expats to vote and have a say in how the U.K. will be run,” she said. “After all, we can’t vote here.”