In today’s article, Kayode Adeniran makes the Labour case for Brexit. Kayode was born in London but now lives in Essex. He graduated from the University of Sussex in 2014 and will be standing as a local council candidate for Labour within Essex in this May’s Local Government Elections. He currently works for the Charities Aid Foundation in London and in his spare time, is a keen reader of History, goes to church, and enjoys the gigs and culture London has to offer.
With only 8 Labour MPs currently backing Brexit, and much of the party membership seemingly backing the “IN” campaign, it seems the die has been cast. But has Labour resolved its mind too soon on the issue of Europe? It can be tempting to disregard the sort of people who most enthusiastically advocate leaving the EU (you don’t have to remind me, I am nervously well aware of the fact that me and Mr Farage seem to be buddies on this issue), you know, the UKIP/Conservative middle aged type who tends to have a nostalgic, isolationist, little Englander mentality, who is perhaps sulking that we no longer have an empire to rule, and wants Britain to be “Great” again. But while there may be some truth in that, it would be a mistake to let that caricature mask the sensible, progressive reasons for Brexit, which aren’t shrouded in the negative separatist language normally associated with right wing newspapers.
Democracy and sovereignty
One of those progressive reasons should be of concern to all, and which is above party politics – democracy, or put more simply, having the controlling say over matters that directly relate to you and me. Whilst much of the discussion will be about economics, and the scare stories we hear of an economic apocalypse by David Cameron need to be challenged, this shouldn’t be the primary consideration. And historically, this was something those within the Labour party understood, well into the 1980s. Tony Benn, who voted against us joining the then European Community in 1975, put it better than I ever could:
“It’s not for members of parliament to give away the powers that were lent to them because they don’t belong to members of parliament, they belong to the electorate…”
He then went on to describe the situation he could see developing, and which we pretty much find ourselves in now, “we live in a continent where increasingly power has gone to a group of people who are not elected, cannot be removed and don’t have to listen to us”.
While this argument has been hijacked by various figures for ends we wouldn’t agree with, the real point is this: real democratic power flows from the citizens, who can hold their representatives to account. Maybe part of the relaxation we within Labour (and the left) have towards the EU’s lack of democracy are its perceived left leaning values, and seemingly harmless and beneficial regulations it introduces to member states. But what if we started to realise that in many cases it perpetuates the austerity and illiberal values we actively campaign against at home?
The way the EU dealt with Greece was a wakeup call to everyone. The friendly inclusive European political project we were promised, which would guarantee social protection and international solidarity, turned and became an unaccountable force, imposing austerity and bringing pain on people who cannot hope to repay the huge loans that are recapitalising their banks. Or let’s consider the TTIP agreement, (which has worryingly been negotiated secretly) with the US. If implemented, it would allow companies to sue governments if their policies cause a loss of profits, allowing unelected transnational corporations to dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.
Think the NHS is currently threatened by this Tory government set on privatisation? That would become the least of your worries. Like the idea currently mooted to renationalise the railways in the future? This would be threatened too, already backed up by EU directives which make this difficult to enact. The issue of control isn’t simply a conservative obsession, but has far reaching implications for how we want to govern, whatever your political stance.
“Surely we’ll lose influence!?”
Often my pro EU friends ask the inevitable question, “Yes, there are problems, but why lose influence to reform things, and why isolate ourselves from the world?”. David Cameron demonstrated best how a reform project with the EU is an impossible task. Now it may be the case that the issues Cameron sought to reform for were at best irrelevant, but considering the small demands he made, and what he brought back, is this an institution that looks open to reforming? EU voting records don’t seem to provide much hope either. Since records began the UK has voted against 72 laws in the Council of Ministers. It has been outvoted every single time. David Cameron has been outvoted 40 times – more than all the other PMs put together. Now, as amusing and possibly beneficial it is to see a Tory PM fail so miserably to exercise influence within the EU, a more general problem becomes clear; The UK is now being outvoted more frequently as the Eurozone countries have started to use their in-built voting majority.
The idea of the UK exercising enough influence to reform a tired and outdated political institution becomes far-fetched when we consider the facts. But it actually becomes narrow minded to simply see the UK’s influence through the lense of the EU; in an increasingly globalised world, real influence is wielded through strategic partnerships globally, through NATO, and our position on the UN security council.
Money, Money, Money…
For a lot of ordinary people though, arguments about democracy and sovereignty don’t always resonate. Hence why we’ve been hearing the soundbites from both campaigns concerning how people will be affected in relation to their wallets, headlines not too dissimilar to stuff like “you’ll lose or gain however many thousands of pounds if you stay or leave!!”, or “This business figure/group supports our campaign, so clearly we are right!”. This comically treats the electorate as fairly naïve. But whatever the pros and cons there will be economically, let’s get away from the myth that we are heading for isolation and disaster if we vote out. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world. The past two decades have seen EU/UK trade tumble from 51% to 43% – while our exports to the world have soared. The UK is the biggest market for EU goods with 5 million of their jobs depending on exports to the UK, including 1 million in Germany and 500,000 in France. It is in no one’s interests to play petty politics and to suddenly stop trading with each other – we’re the EU’s biggest market. Outside the EU, countries from the commonwealth through to Asia trade with the EU – and many actually have free trade agreements with more countries than the EU, like China and Japan. On the other hand the EU has failed to secure trade deals with leading economies such as India, or Brazil.
There is much I could talk about; workers’ rights diminishing, the destruction of the fishing industry, British steel, or how the EU’s immigration policy discriminates against Non-EU migrants. But there’s my two penny’s worth. It’s time for us within Labour at the very least to have a progressive discussion regarding what a future outside the EU would look like. Maybe I can persuade some that you don’t have to be a Ukipper or a Tory backbencher to be sceptical about the EU, and to know that the UK could possibly thrive outside of it.