A Far Left Analysis of Brexit
After the centre-right Conservative party won the British general election in May, 2015, increasing their parliamentary majority, there was increasing tension inside the party. The euro skeptic, right wing side of the Tories was calling for a huge overhaul of relations with the European Union (EU). Pandering to the right wingers, David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives and the Prime Minister, entered drawn out and insignificant negotiations with the EU, eventually securing a few tiny concessions.
But, under ever more pressure from his own party, David Cameron set up a public referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, which took place on the 23rd on June, 2016. It is crucial to understand that there was very little public desire or need for this referendum, and it was not created for the public good, but purely as a gesture, from David Cameron and his allies in the party, to the right, to prevent the party becoming ever more divided. Both the Leave and Remain campaigns were set up hastily, and the Tory MPs were split between both camps, with Labour being largely in favour of Remain.
Both campaigns were fear mongering, lying, and patronizing. The vast majority of people in the UK were drastically uninformed about the EU, and the real stats about it were so manipulated and twisted during the campaigns, that no real truth could be found anywhere. The most infamous example of this was the “£350 million a week to the NHS” plastered on the side of the Leave campaign’s bus. The reality is that the UK does pay £350 million a week to the EU, but about 2 thirds of it comes back to the country through EU grants and investment. The remaining net “loss” is apparently more than offset by the revenue the UK gains from being in the EU, through tax revenue from businesses and immigrants, etc, and the IMF said that the direct net “gain” from leaving would be more than offset by the negative economic impact of leaving the EU. Furthermore, the leave campaign promising money to the NHS is laughable, since it is made of right wing Tories and UKIP, who want to privitise the NHS. The so called £350 million, if it were a true figure, would probably be spent on corporate welfare to private healthcare companies. So, in reality, the truth was lost, as it all came down to “what will be the economic impact of leaving,”which no one knows or can accurately predict, so the whole question was smothered in uncertainty. So, in the end, a huge amount of people voted emotionally, based on fear. The result was in favour of Leave, with 51.9% of people voting Leave, and 48.1% of people voting Remain. The British people had voted in a referendum which no one (save a whining right wing branch of the Tories) called for, and which few people knew much about. However, regardless of the dismal circumstances, the vote has been completed, the result taken in, and now we must move forward. In this essay, I shall be examining what Brexit means politically, from my far left perspective.
My leftist analysis of Brexit:
At first, I was quite confused about my position on Brexit, and still am a little unsure. So, firstly, I will explain the nature of both sides of the debate and how each is orientated on the political spectrum and within party politics.
The Leave campaign was strongly backed by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). UKIP have 1 MP and were little more than a political pressure group, until they had successes in European MEP elections, and local council elections. UKIP’s whole agenda was (and maybe still is?) anti the EU, but from a right wing, reactionary perspective. To give you an idea of the populist, reactionary, authoritarian nature of the party, here are some of their policy examples: increase spending on the police and military; upgrade Britain’s nuclear weapons; heavily limit immigration; abolish inheritance tax; and to privitise the National Health Service (NHS). The point is, that the Leave campaign’s main proponents were UKIP. In the same reactionary spirit as UKIP, about a third of Conservative party MPs backed the Leave campaign. These MPs were and are the right wing of the Tory party.
The main message from the Leave side was about limiting immigration from the EU, which, although a policy I strongly disagree with, could’ve potentially been argued well, but was instead a message shrouded in fear and barely hidden racism. Most of the rest of the Leave campaign was baseless nationalism, boasting about being “the 5th largest economy in the world”, and even references to the allied victory in World War 2. So, you can see that the Leave side was not a very leftist friendly campaign, and was not rooted in reason. There are many legitimate, leftist, arguments against the EU, like arguing against the free market, and against the EU’s lack of democracy, but the Leave campaign, unfortunately, was characterized by right wing reactionism, and not reasonable arguments.
The Remain campaign was endorsed by the centre-left Labour party and the mainstream centre-right Conservative party, including by the Prime Minister, Cameron. This campaign was mostly about hard statistics about economic growth and the monetary benefits of the EU, but made a very poor case, despite being the best of the worst campaign.
My dilemma was and is, that I’m against the EU fundamentally, but my reasons for that are different from the Leave campaign’s. The EU is a neoliberal trading bloc, endorsing free trade, and with little internal democracy, in a centralized system. But the EU also has done some minimal things for worker’s rights and environmental protections. The crux of it is, that the fundamentally pro EU part of the political spectrum is centre right, while the Leave campaign is right of the EU. There is a very strong argument from the left side of the spectrum against the EU, but the Leave campaign had nothing to do with this. If Britain had voted to leave the EU based on a socialist argument, I would have supported it, but since it voted to leave based on a reactionary argument to the right of the EU, I and other leftists cannot rejoice at the Leave vote. The left and the right are both anti the EU, but for different reasons. So I think a Remain vote would’ve been better for the majority of people, because it would’ve prevented the country effectively taking a step to the right, and not a leap to the left.
In the wake of the result, there are many voices saying that the EU itself could be in danger of breaking up. On the surface, this may seem like a positive step: the dissolution of an old part of the establishment and real political change, which could foster huge potential for a more worker focused European politics. However, I take the same view of the potential breakup of the EU as I do on Brexit: it could be a great thing, but it won’t be. Nationalist and reactionary parties, like the AFD in Germany, and UKIP in the UK, are leading the charge against the EU, and its breakup, if it occurs soon, will most likely be instigated by these kinds of parties. If that happens, then I fear European countries will become ever more closed, nationalistic and racist. There may be war, increased privatization and authoritarianism, and an increasingly backward continent. But what if the EU was doomed, but from a different angle?
This brings me on to Jeremy Corbyn. He is a socialist (socially libertarian democratic socialist), and was elected leader of British Labour party twice (surviving a leadership challenge just a few weeks ago). He wishes to abolish Britain’s trident nuclear weapons, give more power to unions, build more council homes, raise corporation tax, empower communities by devolving more power to local councils, amid other things. Some say that he is a social democrat, some say he is a modern socialist, but, whatever he really is, he is much further left than the Tories and the best hope for the start of something different here in Britain. Although the future of the party is still uncertain, he has pulled it left, and into socialist territory. Corbyn has historically been anti the EU, from a leftist point of view, but supported the Remain campaign, for similar reasons as I did, I suspect. If Britain can leave the EU by the next general election, in 2020, and a socialist Labour government is elected then, it could lead to a leftist Britain outside the EU, a brilliant result for socialists like us.
We should strive for a future without the EU in it, but we must work hard to repel the forces of reaction, and to spread a truly socialist sentiment into the debate against, to paraphrase Tony Benn, the Neo-Liberal machine that is the EU. Syriza, in Greece, and Podemos, in Spain, are already sending leftist shock waves through Europe, let us hope that the Labour party can join them in creating a socialist Europe.