The fantasy of Lexit
Why there is no credible left-wing case for leaving the EU
Brexit has inflicted so much on Britain. Division. Hostility. Mark Francois. But one area which has suffered more than others is language. The very word Brexit (described by the conservative journalist Peter Hitchens as sounding like a laxative taken in the morning) with its ‘hard’, ‘soft’, ‘scrambled’ etc. permutations, has become a gag line itself. One wonders if future generations will be crying: “You’ve made a right Brexit out of that!”
But there’s one term that I believe speaks to a level of fantasy and foolishness beyond all others:
This suggests a socialist Brexit, a left-wing, progressive case for leaving the European Union, long held by Corbyn and his allies on the grounds that the EU a club of capitalists. They see it as inherently anti-left, institutionally wedded to the free market, and beyond reform. For them, leaving will allow a Labour-led Britain to transform itself into a genuinely progressive, democratically socialist country, free from budget and spending constraints imposed by Brussels.
I can make the argument about the depredations of the EU as well as anyone, and I have, particularly over its atrocious treatment of Greece, its calamitous migration policy, and its soft-handed, meek reaction to the rise of soft fascism in Hungary and Poland. But the argument that the answer to these problems, as well as the undoubted democratic deficiency in the EU, is to up and leave is not only wrong but would also be, potentially, disastrously counterproductive.
For if the argument is that the EU is indeed a club of capitalists, dominated by finance capital, then who with a straight face can tell me that Britain is not an even more dramatic example of a society ruled by the power of money? What would be the consequences for a society already so heavily-dependent on the precarious service sector, insecure work and low-level wages, free from all protections guaranteed by the EU and enforceable in their courts?
If the argument is that the EU is undemocratic, or even anti-democratic, then who will seriously say that the answer to this is to retreat across the Channel to our own, far more entrenched and conservative Ancien Regime of the monarchy, the House of Lords, the Church, the Privy Council and the Crown-in-Parliament? (That there has been no discussion on the future and reform of our unwritten constitution during this debate is a scandal).
If the argument is that the EU stifles and retards the evolution of socially and economically progressive, left-liberal societies, then can anyone tell me why Denmark, Sweden and Finland all continue to uphold strong, generous, universal welfare states? Given the paltry, mean state of what remains of Britain’s welfare system, is anyone prepared to argue that it is the EU that is holding back a better, kinder, gentler society?
And if the response from Lexiteers is to say that that all of the above will be reformed or even abolished by a Labour government, then I submit that they have all of their work ahead of them show me how leaving the EU under an agreement made by an increasingly reactionary Tory Party translates into a 50+ seat Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government. There is nothing at all to suggest that Labour is on the brink of such a victory like that seen under Tony Blair in 1997.
The answer for anyone who cares about progressive values in this country must be No.
For Brexit remains as it was conceived: an attempt via plebiscite by a venal prime minister to settle an internal squabble within his own party, which was seized upon by nativists, xenophobes, chauvinists, speculators and liars. That it is now resulting in calamity and farce is a function of the very concept of it in the first place. Such a squalid policy could only end in such a way.
Labour should have no part in this. It should present itself as it once was: as the party of internationalism, progressivism and pluralism. It should call for the revocation of Article 50, and be straight with the British people. It should tell them that they were lied to, that they were consciously deceived by a cadre of people who had only their own gain at heart, and who know and care nothing for our history, our constitution or the wellbeing of the British people. If the price they pay for that is a general election, then so be it. But that would be a far more democratic response than to continue to pursue this ridiculous process in which there will no doubt a few winners, but a great mass of losers, who will not easily forgive those that refused to tell the truth because they feared the consequences.