Glory be. So it came to pass that in the year of our lord two thousand and sixteen three wise people came from the east. They did not come on camels like those before them who came to Bethlehem. They winged their way, more comfortably too if they travelled business class. They bore no gifts [...]


Rushing to the aid of beleaguered Cameron


Glory be. So it came to pass that in the year of our lord two thousand and sixteen three wise people came from the east. They did not come on camels like those before them who came to Bethlehem. They winged their way, more comfortably too if they travelled business class.

They bore no gifts for an infant son. They brought words of wisdom as taught them by their masters at home and an iota of hope to the leader they travelled thousands of miles to help. So what brought the three chosen persons to London Town? You would love this.

They came in response to a cry for help from David Cameron. Yes the same David Cameron who not too long ago was consistently slating Sri Lanka for its human rights record and other alleged violations, turning a blind eye as did the heroic Nelson, on his country’s years (centuries?) of moral turpitudes but quick to lecture others.

Yes the same British prime minister who went to Colombo to attend the Commonwealth summit in November 2013 and then, like the Pied Piper, led a media caravan to Jaffna where he promised Britain’s undying support to bring Sri Lanka to book and subsequently did so through an anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva, which by some quirk in thinking, we co-sponsored.

Yes, the leader of the country that cruelly evicted an entire population of Chagossian people from Diego Garcia violating their human rights and allowing the US to use its military base there for “extraordinary rendition” in violation of international law.
Yes it is the country that has persistently hectored us on morality and civilized conduct while hiding its own tainted record behind reams of sanctimonious humbug.

Today Prime Minister Cameron and the country he leads find themselves in the throes of a crucial vote that could and would have a serious impact on the lives of its people today and for generations to come.

Thursday’s referendum is doubly important because of the fractious political debate which is tearing the political establishment apart to a degree that has rarely, if ever, been seen in British politics.

The Conservative Party government itself is split down the middle. This is clearly seen in the leading party figures who are manning the barricades on either side of the debate.

The Labour Party has not escaped the ravages of an increasingly acrimonious and personal campaign with even party leader Jeremy Corbyn being accused of lackluster support for those who wish to remain a part of the 28-nation European Union.
I had intended to devote this column to discuss the central issues being presented by the two sides and some of the confusion that reigns among voters since much of the fear-mongering particularly from Cameron and the “Remain” side, is speculation and what is presented as ‘fact’ by both sides is often conjecture.

But the arrival of the three wise persons from the east bearing words of warning to those who trace their lineage back to the country from whence the three came changed the intended direction of this column.

After all who are we to dwell on economic doom and gloom or hordes of immigrants from an expanding EU over-running this country and tearing apart its welfare services when we should be reaching for such weighty tomes as the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, the UK Treasury analysis, the reports of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the OECD as recommended reading by the rulers back in Sri Lanka.

If we have not had the occasion to read and absorb the Cassandra-like prognostications then we should listen to and be enthralled by the worthies who have done so, probably to frighten the voters with “goni billa” stories we used to hear as children.
So on Wednesday evening the literati and the professional glitterati and some that belonged to neither but almost all with roots that stretched to Sri Lanka gathered at the High Commission to hear those words of wisdom from the chosen three.

If Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Harsha de Silva and the Prime Minister’s Deputy Chief of Staff Rosy Senanayake seemed rather tentative in how to carry Cameron’s baggage to the gathered community, one cannot blame them.

What on earth were they doing there touting for a Tory leader who was under siege by a powerful section of his own party which might be planning to do to mighty Caesar what Cassius and company did to the Roman Senator?

It is not coincidental that all three are from the United National Party which has close links with the Conservative Party both being members of the International Democratic Union.

Scratching each other’s back is a long standing political game. But one wonders what the consequences of this public support for Cameron who leads the “Remain” campaign would be for Sri Lanka if those who want ‘out’ of the EU triumph at the polls?
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in a statement issued last week seemed to think the heavens will fall on Sri Lanka if Britain pulls out. Harsha de Silva rolled out statistics to show that the Sri Lankan economy was not doing too badly after all but Sri Lanka would like to see more of our goods going to the EU. An export push would do a whole lot better. But UK quitting would prove a spanner in the works.

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s gloomy forecast in terms of the world economy and Harsha de Silva’s factual approach might all be true and one can be grateful for the update though I would not put my last £5 on the IMF’s mantra that has brought trouble to economies from Indonesia through Africa to Latin America.

Anyway none of this seemed relevant, not even the economic toll for Sri Lanka should Britain pull out. Those who come to London to sell their story and those who send them do not live in the UK. They do not have to undergo the hardships that the British people face with regard to schools for their children, medical care for themselves and their families, housing and raft of facilities that they feel are under severe strain and further threat because of EU regulations and increasing immigration from EU countries.

It is these people who have to decide what is best for them and the future generations. It is easy for those outside the country who do not have to suffer the consequences of laws and regulations proposed by un-elected EU bureaucrats in Brussels, to tell those who live here that UK should remain in the EU.

But ultimately the people of Sri Lankan origin will decide what is best for them and their families when they cast their votes on Thursday. However long the umbilical cord that ties them to Sri Lanka, however much it is pulled from Colombo, the choice is stark. Either way there is a risk factor. But the choice will be made on their perception of what is best for them.

No amount of exhortations from outside or from flying emissaries is going to change that unless there is evidence to prove that stated dangers will affect them personally.

However much some Commonwealth leaders try to back the Cameron campaign Commonwealth citizens and business leaders that live here or have links have other ideas.

In a recent letter to Cameron, they say: “As patriotic Britons of Commonwealth backgrounds, we saw the EU renegotiation as an opportunity to rediscover Britain’s global vocation.

“As long as Britain’s trade policy is controlled by the EU, we cannot sign bilateral free trade agreements with Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand or for that matter any other non-EU state.

“Vested interests on the Continent sustain a relatively protectionist policy. We have to apply the EU’s common external tariff to exports from Commonwealth countries – hurting consumers here as well as producers there.

“At the same time, our immigration policy forces us, in effect, to turn away qualified workers from the Commonwealth so as to free up unlimited space for migrants from the EU.

“The descendants of the men who volunteered to fight for Britain in two world wars must stand aside in favour of people with no connection to the United Kingdom.”

When Sri Lanka sticks its oar into this internal affair calling for UK to remain in the EU, it is forgetting an important issue – the effect on qualified workers from Commonwealth countries.

In short by promoting UK’s continued presence in the EU qualified Sri Lankans are most often denied the opportunity to better themselves. Is that what the yahapalanaya government is promoting or has it forgotten their own people?

Those who cite the IMF might also pay some attention to the IMF’s comments on Sri Lanka. Speaking at the outreach session of the G7 summit President Sirisena claimed that Sri Lanka cannot undertake major development projects for lack of finances. He urged western countries as well as bilateral and multilateral organizations to invest in Sri Lanka.

But a day before the chosen three made their pitch the IMF warned that Sri Lanka’s economic outlook is facing risks from the government’s inaction on key policy issues and a significant deterioration of the external environment.

The IMF’s mission chief for Sri Lanka Todd Schneider is reported as saying that “in terms of macroeconomic policies there is a lack of clarity where things are going.”

Would it not be far more profitable for the country if the three-member team stayed back and sorted things out back home? After all some of them were elected to do that, weren’t they?

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