Three Weeks To Go: The Case for Lexit... and Remain
Brexit Will Mean a Similar Arrangement With No Voice
For those on the ‘Remain’ side, the EU referendum debate can often seem a bit like the famous ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ sketch in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. For people who were born after we joined or who have spent 40 years under its influence, it is easy to be complacent about the EU’s benefits. John Cleese’s character in Life of Brian could very easily say, ‘Well apart from, access to the world’s largest market, European stability and peace, consumer protections, easier travel, rights to work and study, caps on roaming charges, cross border security, helping end the death penalty in all member states, pay and labour protections, access to European wide healthcare and enhanced intelligence and scientific research collaboration what has the EU ever done for us?’ Although a simplistic assessment - there are many factors other than the EU that have contributed to these developments - I suspect many forget just how much we take the EU for granted.
The EU remains primarily a trading organisation. This is despite the media narrative of a bloated bureaucracy, determined to exercise all manner of control over member states. Its commission employs 33,000 staff, less than some UK County Councils. Despite over-regulation in some areas, it is a story of reduction rather than imposition of rules and regulations. It is easy to forget that 28 separate forms of national standards and regulations have been reduced, making it far easier for individuals and companies to transact business across borders. Where it causes offence is its stray into what John McCormick describes as ‘policy spillover’: the natural boundaries of the single market (an initiative promoted by the Thatcher Government) remain very difficult to define; problems and barriers arising from the implementation of the four freedoms have meant the EU has needed to stray into new policy areas to tie-up loose ends and remove unhelpful bottlenecks.
As with most European countries outside the Union, if Britain leaves it will still have to follow all these regulations anyway and will likely have to pay a significant fee into the EU and accept free movement of people. Even the best scenario will mean we have an almost identical arrangement to what we have now but with no meaningful voice to change how the rules. This also means we will have little control or influence over any future developments. This is particularly significant with the EU looking to finalise and expand the single market in terms of Services, Capital Markets and Digital Markets. Unsurprisingly, most big and many small businesses are lining up to support Remain.
Of course, if the Government wants meaningful change to the relationship (such as control over immigration or greater sovereignty over our laws) Britain will likely have to endure years of negotiation and a self-imposed recession. The EU will almost certainly want to avoid setting a precedent of an easy exit and will therefore likely drag its feet and give Britain access only to what is in the wider Union’s best interest.
It is easy in such a situation to think that Britain could simply forge new relationships outside the EU to offset any potential problems. The EU still accounts for 44% of our trade. It is common sense that most trade should be with your immediate neighbours. Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations recognised recognised the fact that trade ‘carried on with a neighbouring country is…more advantageous’ than that ‘with a distant country’ and therefore argued for ‘greater trade with continental Europe’.. For those who subscribe to Smith’s idea of self-interest, it is undeniably in Britain’s interest to stay in the EU as a full and active member where we can gain all the benefits and help shape the rules.
The EU is not simply undemocratic, but anti-democratic
The left-wing voice in the EU leave campaign has been marginalised by the xenophobic Tory right, but that does not mean that it is not strategically the best option for us to take if we wish to see a genuine leftist platform in Britain in the next decade. I truly believe that a Corbyn government post-Brexit is infinitely more likely to come about than the EU being reformed to the extent we all desire, or even being reformed at all.
The main slogan for the left-wing Remain campaign is ‘Another Europe is Possible’. Whilst I have the utmost respect for the likes of Yanis Varoufakis, Owen Jones and John McDonnell, it disappoints me that they are effectively selling a lie to left-wing campaigners across the country.
The EU is not simply undemocratic, but anti-democratic. Structurally, it is impossible to reform. We saw last summer in Greece how the European Union does not care for the will of national governments and their respective electorates, and they will go as far as putting a run on national banking systems for economic orthodoxy. No matter how many incremental changes they try and satisfy us with, it does not alter the fact that due to the systemic free market bias within European law and the DNA of the European Union, our hands are tied in regards to the political programme a potential Corbyn government could enact. Moreover, the ‘trade and aid’ deals the European Union loads onto the global South omit a neo-colonial stench that actually keeps these countries in poverty instead of alleviating their struggle by making sure African producers in the agricultural sector cannot compete in their own countries.
Many people on the left see the European Union as the last remaining barrier to the far-right. They essentially see it as the cure for far-right populism. However, it is becoming clearer that instead of a cure, the European Union is a predominant cause of the far-right. Populist anger has been galvanized by the right more so than by the left for one simple reason. Whilst the intellectually bankrupt centre-left continued to defend this unaccountable, authoritarian system, and its policies of perma-austerity and decimation of industry, the anger of the working classes across Europe were manipulated by the likes of Golden Dawn, Front National and the UK Independence Party. If we continue to defend this institution, which is destined to collapse within the next few decades anyway, instead of providing a radical alternative at the nation state level, I can only see this getting worse. This is an authoritarian form of globalisation which the left should not be trying and subsequently failing to make incremental change to, but break down completely.
We should not be voting to remain to “stop Boris Johnson”. This short-sighted and defeatist position insinuates that we’re willing to thwart the will of the British electorate by propping up an anti-democratic institution that opposes everything we stand for. Instead, the answer is to pool our efforts into beating him at the nation state level. As I previously stated, winning the battle for hearts and minds against a plank like him is much more likely than gaining any meaningful reform to the European Union. If 2984 Green voters had switched to Labour in key battleground constituencies, David Cameron would have been denied a majority. The idea that Britain will shift rightwards after Brexit is both nonsensical and fatalist. The left has historically been the platform for hope and optimism, we should be aiming to build a new, better path outside of the European Union so we can create the society that we all desire. In my opinion, doing this inside a fundamentally laissez-faire European Union is completely impossible.
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