Exit Stage Left: A Socialist Case for Brexit
Think back to the 1975 referendum on our membership of the European Economic Community. A common argument perpetuated by the ‘Yes’ campaign was that you have got to be in it to change it and to work it to your advantage. Does that sound familiar? If it doesn’t, you have probably been living under a rock for the last twelve months. I’m of the minority view on the left that we should aim to leave the European Union, whereas most of my comrades and social democrat relatives have consistently campaigned for change within Europe, a progressive Europe. I deem this an impossible task as the European Union is beyond repair. Not only do the hijinks of the so-called Troika in 2015 illustrate this, but over the last forty years, the failure of the social democratic centre-left in creating a progressive Europe and the resistance of the centre-right mean I believe that we should all have a long period of reflection about our attitudes towards the EU.
I can appreciate there is a narrative that anybody who is even slightly Eurosceptic is twinned with the painfully divisive and nationalistic UK Independence Party – but this must not deter the left in making an obvious, compelling critique of the European Union, which has mastered the art of domination over national economies and parliamentary sovereignty.
The EU is an affront to a radical but simple idea – democracy
The argument from the ‘No’ camp in the 1975 referendum was that we would suffer from a lack of influence over how we were run. Simply put, it was right. In Tony Benn’s ‘Arguments for Socialism’ (1980), he claims that “the power of electors in Britain has been substantially ceded to the European Community, whose Council and Commission are neither collectively elected by the British people, nor even by the peoples of all the community countries put together.” This begs the question; do we want to be a part of, therefore endorse an unelected body which enjoys unprecedented amounts of political influence over the lives of British people – without a single scrap of accountability to the British people? We live in a continent where increasingly power has gone to a group of people who cannot be removed and don’t have to listen to us. The upper echelons of the European Union, particularly the European Commission have an overwhelming monopoly on the initiation of legislation which will affect every single one of us. We must take back the Eurosceptic argument as an argument for democracy. Politics should not be top-down, politics should be bottom-up.
The economic dictatorship and the myth of the ‘working man’s Europe’
The alleged economic benefits of the European Union are flaky at best, and they have continued to make it clear to me where their true loyalty lies. For example, the Laval and Viking Line cases in the European Court of Justice have provided employers with “a potent new weapon with which to opposite industrial action”, not to mention EU Directive 9/440, which enshrines the privatisation of our railway networks into law. On top of this, the Fiscal Stability Treaty effectively outlawed expansionary economic policy, meaning in the occurrence of a global economic crisis, no country in the Eurozone would be able to respond with Keynesian economics, but would have their hand forced into dangerous austerity which has already proven to be a catastrophic failure.
It’s not looking very good – and I haven’t even mentioned TTIP yet, which truly does represent a race to the bottom in accountability and a race to the top in corporate hegemony. What TTIP essentially does is give large, multinational corporations the ability to sue democratically elected governments when they attempt to enact policy that may hamper profit margins. This process is called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), and it is claimed it will have “few or no benefits to the U.K, while having meaningful economic and political costs” – talk about stating the obvious. .
A brief paragraph on the free movement of labour
Whilst the myth of a worker’s Europe may not be a bone which the UKIP Eurosceptics tend to pick, the free movement of labour is. The left must not be drawn into immediately screaming “racist” at anybody who dares to question this, we need to offer solutions. The free movement of labour has allowed corporations to exploit cheap labour abroad, giving them an excuse to slash wages at home. There is fear in working class communities that if freedom of movement continues, our NHS, our schools and council houses will not be sufficient after already being cut to the bone by this callous Conservative government, offering credence to the immigrant scapegoating rhetoric of UKIP. Only a real living wage, a programme of fully funded public services and an expansive council house building programme can relieve the fears of ordinary working people. In the case of a Brexit, we must first address these issues before committing to the free movement of labour outside of the Union.
Behaviour towards nation states – a resistance to change
By this point I’ve usually rambled or slurred at a friend in the pub for a good twenty minutes depending on how far I’m gone, and they always ask me, like most on the left do “if you’ve got the ideas, why not stay in the European Union and change it?”. As I said in the introduction, I believe this is an impossible task. The Troika’s behaviour insinuates they are completely resistant to the progressive change that we all want to see in Europe. Even David Cameron is struggling to get a sniff of compromise from people who generally speak his own political language. This argument has no discernible backbone as the EU becomes a neoliberal tool designed to oppress national governments who wish to enact progressive, left-wing policies. Whilst some may consider this a betrayal of progressive populist parties such as Syriza and Podemos who are actively trying to change the European Union instead of leaving it, the experience of Varoufakis and the Syriza government in a mere six months just proves it to be a vain lost cause, as his account of his time spent negotiating in Brussels emphasises:
It’s not that it didn’t go down well – there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on, to make sure it’s logically coherent, and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. – Yanis Varoufakis
I’m more than aware many people on the left still won’t agree with me, but I hope people reading this can understand where I’m coming from. In the case we stay in the European Union, I will happily campaign against the oppressive, centre-right nature of the Union from within, even if I do consider it a relatively futile exercise. The power structure of the European Commission as well as its resistance to progressive change over the last forty years planted the seeds of doubt, and the growing economic inequality in the union, the TTIP debacle as well as the treatment of Greece and other countries made my Euroscepticism blossom. I fully understand and appreciate reasons for wanting to stay in the Union, however, as a believer in democracy, I cannot vote for anything other than a Brexit this year.