Many on the left propose a supposedly progressive argument for leaving the European Union: but on closer inspection, this is nothing but a dangerous fantasy.
“Lexit” has become a buzzword on the British left; the trendy, alternative argument for leaving the European Union in order to pursue a socialist vision of the nation’s future. Whilst the EU is far from perfect from a left-wing point of view, leaving will only hand Britain to the Conservatives for a generation, and cause an economic downturn which will only bring unemployment and poverty to the most vulnerable in our country.
It’s worth reminding ourselves about the impacts of Brexit. With three million jobs linked to our membership of the EU, every single one of these would be under threat if Britain voted to leave. Equally, the economic shock of an exit would precipitate an immediate recession, which would be paid for by the poorest families in our country. As the economy shrivels and the state’s revenues dry up, the Conservatives would have an opportunity to further cut away at our most basic services, as for them this is a more palatable option than tax rises for the wealthy.
We on the left need to remember who we may have leading us in a post-Brexit Britain: not the glorious socialist fantasy government the Lexiters seem to imagine but a likely team of Prime Minister Johnson and Chancellor Gove. This unholy alliance is not going away anytime soon, judging by the current unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas. The Brexit camp is led by individuals who want to sell off our NHS – who on the left can seriously consider handing them the reins of power after 23 June?
So what then are the main reasons for opting for an “In” vote? Firstly, the rights of our workforce. EU law mandates maximum working hours, ensures paid holiday, and provides anti-discrimination protections. On the outside, the Conservatives would be free to strip all these away, and engage in a race to the bottom with ever-deteriorating conditions for British workers. Our legisislation is currently in adavance of EU rules – with the Conservatives in unchallenged power, that would not last, with our lost economic competitivieness being regained by driving the workforce harder and harder. Lexiters should briefly consider the lives of others, before they engage in the navel gazing dreams of a precipitate exit, which would only be negotiated on the Tories’ terms, above all considering the sorry state of the left in our political system today.
The democratic arguments also attract many left-wingers to entertain a leave vote. This was a favourite of the late Tony Benn: glossing over the irony of following the lead of a man whose encouragement of the far-left helped keep the Tories in power for a generation, many consider the structures of the EU to favour unelected bankers and bureaucrats rather than the people. This is simply not true – the European Parliament has the real power in the EU, a body elected in by a far fairer system than the two houses of our own legislature. Compared to NATO or the WTO, the EU is run along much more democratic and accountable lines. Furthermore, were we to leave the political union but remain part of the single market (like Norway) we would be forced to implement most European regulations without any say over their details – the complete opposite of democracy. Leaving the EU would result in our future trade deals being cooked up in secretive backrooms, rather than on the floor of the European Parliament.
Another conceit of the Lexiters is that abandoning the European Union would help us escape TTIP. The provisions of this EU-US trade deal are truly repulsive: all public services up for sale, with corporations free to sue governments in secret should they dare to raise the minimum wage or improve working conditions (thereby harming big businesses’ obscene profit margins). On the face of it, an exit would seem like a progressive choice. But the picture is more complex than that: firstly, the deal is now unlikely to pass, with a probable French “non”. Equally, without the European Union’s immense bargaining power, any future trade deal would be on even worse terms – President Obama has already said that Britain would be “at the back of the queue”. Remember, a post-Brexit Tory government would have no problem whatsoever with selling off the remains of the state in a potential agreement which would likely be even worse than TTIP. This leap into the dark would leave us playing Russian roulette with the future of our public services, a stark reality which should repel any honest left-winger.
The future of our union as well is worth considering. Socialism is an internationalist creed, one which relies on our pulling together in unity with the other peoples of the world. Yet all Brexit would encourage would be narrow nationalism: Scotland would likely to vote on independence again, and with a Johnson-Gove administration at the helm in Westminster, secession is a real possibility. The brutal truth is that a broken up Britain, with smaller, weaker and poorer governments bickering between themselves, would be even less able to fight the excesses of corporate greed, the epidemic of tax evasion or the continued destruction of our natural environment. Unity, both within Europe and within Britain, must be maintained.
The European Union’s advantages and drawbacks are manifold and wide-ranging. We all benefit from the peace and prosperity it has brought; we should all condemn the appalling treatment of Greece and the ideas behind TTIP. But we gain nothing by leaving: we cannot alter the past, only reform the future. The Lexiters may try and convince themselves that they are moral and progressive, but in reality they are irrational self serving fantasists, who would advance their unachievable pipedreams by bringing poverty and unemployment to the very people they profess to care about. For the security, the prosperity, the future of us all, we must show that the case for Lexit is nothing but a vain tissue of self-indulgent lies perpetuated by those on the far left that care more for theory than the reality in which we all live.
A final note: Labour voters will decide this referendum. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s lacklustre performances can be traced to his personal Euroscepticism, the rest of the party cannot be so self-serving. The swelling of anti-immigrant feeling that is buoying up the Leave campaign is born of our abject failure to listen to the public and reduce our reliance on foreign labour whilst in office. In short, we created this mess for ourselves: now we have to redeem our cause and show Britain how we are better off in the EU. This means the Lexiters must be laughed out of court; their case holds no water and serves no one but them and their own unattainable fantasies. Though it may be inconvenient for some to accept, Lexit is a lie.
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