The Problem with Lexit

Labour MP Gisela Stuart who chairs the Vote Leave campaign

The blue-on-blue action, hyperbolic interventions, xenophobic dog-whistles, awkward alliances and uninformed celebrity endorsements. It is all going to be over in a few hours. Yes, today is the day. The day that we finally lance the boil. It is the day that we give the European Question a clear answer. Today is referendum day.

I suspect that Britain will vote to remain in the European Union but there will be long-term repercussions for our body politic whichever way the country votes. A combination of hurt feelings, betrayed souls and damaged egos on the Conservative benches could bring forward David Cameron’s expiry date. An ungovernable Conservative Party could lead to the battle-scarred Prime Minister calling an early election. The consequences for the Labour Party are not exactly clear but they are definitely not good.

Part of the reason for this is because during this referendum campaign there has been a revival of Labour Euroscepticism. Although a minority of Labour politicians have endorsed Labour Leave, the pro-Brexit Labour group, they do speak for a significant proportion of Labour voters something which is a problem for the party leadership. These voters are at odds with Europeanism and globalisation and will not obey the party’s quinoa-eating, metropolitan wing. However, while there are perfectly reasonable leftwing reasons to be suspicious of the EU, backing Lexit is fundamentally flawed.

The main reason for this is because Lexit is not on the ballot paper. It all goes back to why we are having this vote in the first place. Cameron did not call this plebiscite because of any real urgent need. No new treaty is imminent, there is no transfer of power or significant change in our relationship. This vote has been called to appease the Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party whose Euroscepticism is not driven by any concern for the working class but by an adoration of the free market.

In the very late 1980s, the European Commission grew a social conscience under the French socialist Jacques Delors. Under his leadership, social rights for workers became an integral part of the European project much to the chagrin of Margaret Thatcher who rightly saw it as an affront to her ideology. This particularly angered her because she thought Europe was a market-orientated institution especially seeing as it was she who signed the Single European Act which paved the way for more integration and free movement (things that Thatcherites pretend to hate). It was also Thatcher’s newfound hostility to Europe, not the Poll Tax, which led to her defenestration from office.

That is why Thatcherites care so much. This referendum may have driven the nation into a state of ennui but it has activated their political G-spot. Brexit is a unique opportunity for them to regain control of their party from Cameron, avenge the political death of their spiritual mother and pick up from where she left off. Our country would not become the socialist utopia that Lexiters dream of but a Northern European tiger economy with deregulation, low taxes, a smaller state and few social rights.

The people who would be hit hardest by this experiment would not be the establishment, as Michael Gove would have us believe, but the very working class people who are likely to vote for Brexit. Their future — jobs, livelihoods and communities — would be sacrificed at the altar of the free market as an oblation to the Iron Lady. So yes, Lexit is not on the ballot paper. What is on the ballot paper is Brexit on the Right’s terms. Eurosceptic progressives and socialists should not naively allow themselves to become human shields for the Tory right’s agenda.

So where does this leave Labour Leavers? What should be their response? Stay in and fight. It is inevitable that Eurozone countries will need deeper fiscal and political union in order to make the single currency work and this will require treaty change. When this happens, non-eurozone countries will have the upper hand because such reform will require their support.

That is why Lexiters should be fighting for an electable Labour Party so that when the times comes, Britain has a Labour Prime Minister around the table who is negotiating from a position of strength. A serious renegotiation with Europe based on our progressive values. That is infinitely better than Brexit under Boris Johnson.