Youth parliamentarians debate pros and cons of Brexit

Cayman Islands Youth Parliamentarian Richard Weber argued in support of Brexit in the Legislative Assembly on Friday. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

Jenae Whittaker shifted back and forth on her feet as she stood addressing 18 other Regional Youth Parliament members in the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly on Friday. She was arguing that the nine Caribbean nations represented by the group should not endorse the United Kingdom’s plans to exit the European Union.

“The U.K. can only think of themselves,” she told the group of high school and college students. “They are crippling their relationships with other European nations. For the Cayman Islands, we have more to lose than to gain with Brexit.”

This was the 14th time the Regional Youth Parliament has met and the first time it has convened in Cayman, government officials said.

Legislative Assembly Speaker McKeeva Bush welcomed the group by acknowledging that their debate over whether or not to support Brexit was more than an academic exercise.

“As a parliament, we haven’t had the opportunity ourselves [to debate the topic], but we’re eager to hear your thoughts on it,” Mr. Bush said. “I don’t want you to think we’re just here as a formality. We do pay attention to what young people say.”

He told the group that such exercises were also a way for the students to improve their research and oratory skills. They also serve as an opportunity for the students to share their views with a wider audience.

“Debates are vital tools to inform and mold public opinion,” he said. “So don’t think that this is just a ‘topic.’ It will inform my thinking. I believe I’m going to get something out of this.”

Ms. Whittaker was one of two Caymanians engaged in the debate. While she was on the side arguing against supporting the U.K.’s move, Richard Weber argued the other side.

He said getting out from underneath monetary regulations imposed by the European Union would be a good thing for Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, Cayman in particular.

“Without this red tape, we would not only be able to expand our financial offerings, but so would London,” Mr. Weber said.

He also predicted it would strengthen economic ties between its islands and the U.K.

“To break from the European Union would allow for a mutually beneficial relationship to emerge,” he said. “That is a long-term positive.”

Ade O’Neal, of Barbados, cautioned that the territories should not be so quick to assume such a beneficial relationship is a given.

“Why do you think a country that wants to be so insular all of a sudden wants to be our friend?” Mr. O’Neal asked. “If we can’t control the beast, why bring it?”

He said no one should be comfortable with so many unknowns.

“Don’t give inebriates to a monster,” he said. “Don’t slap a beast you can’t control. Don’t set a fire that you can’t contain.”

The debate ran through the morning. Other members of the Legislative Assembly were on hand as well as educators connected with the program and family and friends of the participants, who were seated in the gallery.

At one point, Layton Lewis of Turks and Caicos, argued against the potential financial risks of a split from the European Union.

“The stakes are too high,” Mr. Lewis said. “The economy will suffer great damage. Already, the pound is at its lowest level in seven years. The loss is far too much for Britain and for us in the overseas territories.”

But Xavier Richardson, of Trinidad and Tobago, said there could be benefits to a nationalist movement.

“The responsibility to those that live within our borders must take precedence,” Mr. Richardson said.

The students also touched on such topics as what impact Brexit might have on local tourism, potential travel restrictions and an anticipated loss of political influence for the United Kingdom in Europe.

Mr. Bush said he was impressed by the students.

“I have real hope for the future of our youth,” he said.

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