The case for EUnity - Lexit’s folly, the death of TTIP and fighting the far-right

At the UK’s long awaited EU referendum poll tomorrow we make a choice with consequences that will be felt for generations. It is a choice between hope and fear, openness and isolation — optimistic, empathetic collectivism and cold, bloody-minded individualism. We choose between participating in an inevitable future or hiding in an imagined past. We can either admit, accept and shape our destiny or crawl, bitter and limp, into the annals of history as a hated outsider.

I am now strongly for Remain, but I am not someone who came into the referendum without having taken a truly cynical eye to the EU for many years beforehand. I have not always come down on the side of the EU but at this point it is very clear what choice we have to make for prosperity, peace and a brighter future. The consequences of this referendum will mean massive change for us as a country and for the EU itself — change that will, if you believe in things like experts, be astonishingly negative if we leave and potentially hugely positive, with the help of buoyant British influence, if we stay in. Reassuringly, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, himself admits that the EU is in a “post-utopian phase” — it is time to get real and it’s time to make this work. The Leavers can rest in the solace that this could very well be the last chance to get the EU right, without improvement it will self-destruct anyway.

Economically speaking, it would only take a 1% drop in national GDP in year 1 in order to completely wipe out nearly all of the £8.5bn we contribute to the EU. Economists are united in warning that the consequences go from bad, to very bad, to potentially ruinous, with knock on effects for the global economy. This week alone was like watching the economic argument play out in a kind of speeded up, live-action display on the stock markets. In response to the new polls showing a much-lessened perceived risk of Brexit, the pound has rallied from a two month low to having its best day since 2009. The bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland alone, partly owned by the taxpayer, gained around 7% on Monday morning — this is a company with close to a trillion pounds in assets. It doesn’t take a huge amount of extrapolation to see what a seismic effect a Leave vote would have. Following admissions from all corners of the Leave campaign that there is not a single report or any reasonable, real-world calculation that advocates a positive economic outcome for Brexit (in the short term at least), they have turned their fire on our most carnal, evolutionarily defunct fears and anxieties… ultimately the result may be a self-defeating reminder of the real powers at play here.

There is undoubtedly a need to talk about immigration, but it is Jo Cox’s deeply positive, reality-based approach which she embodied when she said that “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us” in her maiden speech to the Commons, that we must embrace. Without forgetting the work of Nick Griffin, Britain First and a thousand fear-inducing Daily Mail headlines, Farage’s cynical, dangerous and ultimately nasty delusions more than any other individual have brought us to the combative mood towards immigration felt in so many parts of the country today. It goes without saying that if your case can not be made with the use of statistics and reason and you have to resort to dog-whistle racism, you’ve already lost the argument — and the Leave camp were all too quick to pursue a brief spark in the polls at the expense of their own dignity and decency. Sounding less confident and more honest than ever Farage, on Sunday’s ITV interview, was (to his credit) the first to admit publicly that Jo Cox’s death has reshaped the landscape: “We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy. It has had an impact on the whole campaign for everybody.”

Savvy enough to move out of the way when he spots a train wreck, Michael Gove, a leading proponent of Leave, strongly distanced himself from the already infamous UKIP billboards depicting a hoard of invading, mostly male and resolutely brown-skinned (thanks in part to some nifty editing) migrants. Gove says that the image made him “shudder”. I sense that this poster will be remembered much like the Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech and spell a similarly irrelevant outcome Nigel Farage’s career. It seems that the blunders and bloodshed have conversely, mercifully done much to shock us into alertness and turn away many of those people trying to make a genuine, right-minded case for Brexit. We are suddenly aware of the mire in which we find ourselves.

JK Rowling put it that not everyone siding with Leave were “racists and bigots,” but that “it is equally nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren’t flocking to the ‘Leave’ cause, or that they aren’t, in some instances, directing it”. It shouldn’t be a discussion about race, but any logical argument for Brexit has been irreversibly tarnished by those whose motives aren’t founded on securing freedom and democracy. Farage is undoubtedly the most successful instigator of this altogether more sinister tone in British politics, and he has let the mask slip just in time with his willingness to push the buttons with immigration rhetoric that has at its worst been starkly overt in its desire to divide. Thankfully, his resorting to the lowest form of politics in order to grab votes is a self-immolating act of sabotage for a campaign that relies on not just convincing the converted xenophobic, but some very liberal anti-establishment types who might otherwise side with Leave. Again to his credit, he did rightly admit that Jo Cox’s murder was an “act of terrorism” — there’s little doubt from all other quarters that it was one spawned from the dark depths of the UK’s emboldened far right (who are of course, crying conspiracy). I wouldn’t bother second-guessing a guy who apparently goes by the name of “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” and the right must take some responsibility for fomenting these wicked sentiments.

The overwhelmingly xenophobic rhetoric from some quarters of the Leave camp is reflected by the departure of Baroness Warsi, by no means a champion of the left, who has apparently turned her back on the Leave campaign in light of recent ugliness, saying “The vision that me and other Brexiters who have been involved right from the outset, who had a positive outward-looking vision of what a Brexit vote might mean, unfortunately those voices have now been stifled and what we see is the divisive campaign which has resulted in people like me and others who are deeply Eurosceptic and want to see a reformed relationship feel that they now have to leave Leave.” Farage is, of course, also crying conspiracy and I doubt Cameron’s ruthlessness and motivation, but Warsi is a politician of at least some principle, laudable for her resignation from the cabinet in light of what she saw as a lack of criticism in her party over Israel’s bad behaviour. In any case, the barrage of racist tweets she encountered upon announcing her defection displays in stark terms the nasty racism at work amongst the Leave campaign.

With the hysteria having reached orgiastic proportions, it is now clearly the time to calm down and take stock. Pundits, politicians and the public have sobered their rhetoric. That the victim and catalyst for this change of tone should be someone who was clearly an astoundingly positive person, who made such a brave and so often unmade case for the huge benefits immigration brings to us on her maiden speech, is a tragedy. However, I would argue, respectfully, that Jo Cox might well turn out to be the hero of this referendum. In her husband Brendon Cox’s own words she has become “a symbol of something bigger”. Farage’s prompt admissions have solidified the feeling that this was always primarily a battle that belonged to the small-minded, backward looking, fact-manipulating, reality-denying far right. It is my belief that in many ways, Jo Cox and Nigel Farage represent most poignantly prevalent, fundamental and underlying tendencies in both camps. Jo’s gift to us all, in her sad death, was to cast light on the darkness of those who wish to hand more power over to business owners, dismantle the NHS and pack our manufacturing jobs off to somewhere more profitable (thank you, James Dyson).

The left, on the other hand, should have been doing a lot more to spread the kind of vision Jo Cox was so proud to shout about. Immigrant communities deserve a stronger, more positive representation than they have been afforded and we need to be bold in accurately portraying the hugely positive contribution they make to our economy and culture. Instead we’ve been very short-sighted in once again brushing aside the immigration question and classically self-indulgent, largely ignoring the issue of the serious economics because we mistrust the system and quietly want to see it redesigned in our own mould. We’ve obsessed about TTIP, Greece, Spain, Ireland et al (Ireland actually doing rather well to recover after their ECB bailout — barely discussed) as well the clear problems with lobbying and austerity economics. In doing so we’ve taken the communitarian protections of the EU completely for granted, along with the innumerable benefits and forward-looking orientation that freedom of movement affords us in a world where borders buckle under the bulldozer of global capital.

Let us pick apart that shape shifting neoliberal bogeyman, TTIP. There is wavering enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic, with substantive criticism of such trade deals from both presidential nominees (Clinton against TPP, Trump against the whole idea of them) and major European figures in open revolt. We must of course remain vigilant but, as with the politically unpalatable and currently unlikely Turkey accession issue, the crucial thing here is that 28 members states = 28 potential vetoes. Sometimes the EU’s slow and steady nature (not so helpful during a refugee crisis) gives us chance to think, and a dozen creaking summits have shown us that caution towards the deal is rife. With the help of an increasingly politicised internet-savvy population we have shown that we are far from impassive and have displayed great collective fortitude in sniffing out a corporate rat. As a result there have been mass protests on a very large scale — notably in Germany itself where Reuters reported between 150,000 and (according to organisers) 250,000 people marched in the rally — and that pressure has been felt. Across the channel, French president Francois Hollande has come out firmly with the most unequivocal slap-down of the deal so far, saying that he won’t accept the trade deal as it goes against “essential principles”, whilst French Trade Minister Matthias Fekla told Europe-1 radio that negotiations “are totally blocked” and that talks are likely to halt entirely. The signs are that we’re actually winning here. The WikiLeaks became a torrent and now the damn is burst, politicians have paid attention to all of the warnings and people power is tipping the scales against the deal. The war isn’t yet won and it will be an ongoing battle, but we can breathe a sigh of relief and vote for togetherness and progress with a clear conscience on Thursday.

The scorched-Earth approach of breaking the system amongst the Lexit (Left-wing Brexit) camp; railing against the built-in neoliberalism of the EU, giving Cameron and the Conservatives a kicking, in order to rebuild our country from the fringes as a bastion of socialism will not come to pass. Lexit at this stage is an idea that is at best infantile and at worst deeply misanthropic — the moral equivalent of an environmentalist who would quite happily see humans extinct to save the planet. We may balk at the perceived lack of democracy within the EU, but they make our democracy look weak by comparison. There is not a single official who cannot be voted down by the EU parliament, the Commission is built on delegates from our elected governments with the idea that all countries — large or small — are represented equally at the level of policy creation. We may feel we have a small voice but we account for approximately 13% of the overall vote in Europe, in line with our population size, and coming from one of the few remaining developed nations that has an unelected, hereditary head of state and a house of unelected “Lords” (how quaint) that outnumbers MPs in the commons, we are facing our anger resolutely in the wrong direction. Is the probable suffering of so many worth it, when the foundation for our anger is so flimsy and myopic?

It might also a good time to remind yourself what a monumental, megalomaniacal despot that most powerful unelected leader of ours, Rupert Murdoch, had to say about the EU. Anthony Hilton, writing for the Evening Standard, recalls “I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union: ‘That’s easy,’ he replied, ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” This is power in its most unaccountable, malevolent and dangerous form. If the Murdoch press and their nefarious, climate-denying, warmongering, oligarchical allies in the global big boys club win this argument and we help bring about the destruction of the biggest democratic and political union the world has ever seen, you can be sure that they will be vastly empowered.

To put things starkly and without meaning to exaggerate, if we Leave the EU, we risk entering dictatorship-lite, putting the 0.1%, the powerful few in charge. They care only about the interests of a small but very wealthy over-class and they are terrified of the EU’s achievements — the EU threatens their ability to control us. Forget about Bilderberg meetings and Illuminati fantasising, this is a real-life conspiracy to stymie and pervert the progression of modern, liberal democracy itself. We can be great, we can achieve an optimistic, better future for the world we live in, and the EU is the best chance to achieve that. Globalisation and the forces of big money can only be met with big, socially orientated politics. Staying in is an opportunity to ensure that the EU is at the forefront of this effort rather than co-opted by the dark and divisive elements that are only strengthened by our leaving. Being engulfed by the sort of violence and unrest Nigel Farage spoke of to the BBC in May is a very real threat, although it won’t be born out of European unity but this proud, angry isolationism that threatens to tear our society apart at the seams.

The old EU begins to look especially benign when you consider this new potential status quo which bears all the hallmarks of neo-fascism: overt hostility towards liberal democracy, populism, anti-immigration and the sort of nascent ultranationalism that followed the great depression of the 1930s. This is the reason any argument of claiming back sovereignty is deeply flawed and naive, since it also takes no notice of the degree to which the EU is far more democratic than our own dated, monarchical system where much of the real power — felt, yet unseen — lurks in the distant land of hereditary privilege and the City of London Corporation. Voting Leave means aligning with these forces and affording more power to Farage, Boris, Gove, Murdoch and their kin. Make no mistake, they wish to create an even less democratic, more neoliberal and socially anorexic state and their actions and voting records prove it. If you think that TTIP is bad, imagine what a government already keen to take the deal at face value and consumed with the will of the far-right would do with it… all with what is likely to be a very unfavourable bargaining position. You also aid a very real and growing insurgence of fascism on the continent, who similarly wish for the demise of what they regard as a socialist cabal in Brussels. As Polly Toynbee puts it for the Guardian, we will be a country “Over-dependent on a City fast losing business to the EU, all our worst propensities would see us scratch a disreputable living as Europe’s off-shore tax haven, casino and obsequious harbour for the world’s brigands.” It is not the right circumstance to consider Lexit, the stakes are simply too high and we don’t have the benefit of a general election to consider what kind of government we want to re-shape an independent Great Britain. That is, if you can call a fractured and broken Britain “Great”, which with a highly plausible Scottish exit in the pipeline is very questionable.

The alternative is to face the future head on and work together — a future that can be greatly shaped by our ongoing participation. We can do little to respond to this if we shut ourselves off from one of the most important centres of power on the planet, and one that represents its biggest single economic union. If we can’t win there, we will struggle to find representation that is broad enough to take the kind of multilateral action that is called for. Likewise, the challenges of mass migration and the massive humanitarian disaster that is the refugee crisis can only be tackled together.

What the EU is lacking is leadership and ingenuity, something this nation has in spades when at its best. Let’s rise to the challenge together and create a world that works for everybody.

Thanks for taking the time to hear my thoughts. Please vote and do it with hope.

Love from a fellow Earthling