Tuesday, 21 June 2016

How does the case for "Lexit" stack up?


I've written several articles that address the left-wing case for the UK to leave the European Union (Lexit). In one I highlighted the incredible polarity shift in the debate over European integration since the 1970s when the hard-left led the opposition. In 2016 the campaign to quit the EU is undeniably being led by the the right-wing (UKIP and the hard-right of the Tory party) but there are some on the left who are campaigning for the UK to bail out of the EU, despite the fact that we currently have the most right-wing Tory government in living memory.

Many people have written to me to complain that I have focused the bulk of my criticism on the official Vote Leave campaign, whilst paying much less attention to the Lexit case for quitting the EU.

The reasons I've focused most of my criticism on the official Vote Leave campaign are obvious; they are the official campaign; and they're also full of high profile Tories including several current government ministers (Chris Grayling, Boris Johnson, John Whittingdale, Priti Patel, Michael Gove ...) who would have the power to reshape the UK after Brexit. The leaders of Lexit would have no such powers, so even if they did make a load of false promises like the Vote Leave campaign, they'd be completely powerless to enact them or not.

In this article I'm going to examine the case for Lexit and consider why left-wing people might want to adopt a stance that would have the consequence of empowering the radically right-wing Tories to go on an ideological rampage through the UK economy, legal system, constitution and foreign relations.

The Case for Lexit examined

These five points are take from the Left Leave website and form the basis of their argument that "you should vote leave on June 23".

1. A Big Business Agenda
"The EU is in secret negotiations with the US to launch the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)" ... "Countries like Greece, Cyprus, Ireland and Portugal have suffered brutal EU austerity programmes."

I've probably written more detailed criticism of TTIP than 99% of Lexiters. It's certainly fair to criticise the EU for attempting to concoct such an outrageous deal in secret. However using TTIP to fearmonger about the EU as if its implementation is a foregone conclusion is wrong. The left-wing governments in Greece and Portugal would certainly veto it. The French have sworn to veto it if it is presented in its current form, and it's likely that countries like Ireland and Denmark would demand referendums on the implementation of such wide ranging alterations to all manner of EU statutes too. Additionally, it's worth considering the fact that the Tory government are fanatically in favour of TTIP, so much so in fact, that for ages they refused to even take up the option of exempting the NHS from the negotiations. The idea that post-Brexit Tories wouldn't set about drawing up an even more radically right-wing trade deal with the Americans is naive fantasy land stuff. 
Criticism of the European Commission - ECB - IMF ("Troika") imposed austerity agenda in places like Greece is fair enough. I've been a vocal critic of the EU's socially and economically destructive ideological austerity agenda too. The problem with this stance is that the Tories are the most fanatical bunch of pro-austerity fetishists of the lot. Most other countries imposed austerity under severe pressure from external transnational organisations like the ECB and the IMF, the Tories did it in the UK because they wanted to. In fact, the Tories are so keen on austerity that while they were busy imposing their toxic austerity agenda on the British public because we supposedly have to "live within our means", they somehow found £10 billion to lavish on the IMF so that they could go and push austerity in other countries like Greece. 
Any claim that voting to quit the EU would alleviate ideological austerity in the UK, or elsewhere in Europe is a complete non sequitur. If the UK quits the EU Tories from both sides of the debate have promised more ideological austerity (George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith), and Britain quitting the EU would have absolutely no influence on the ECB and IMF pushing austerity on Greece. 
Saying "I don't like that awful thing so I'm going to run away" is not a solution to the problem, especially if you run straight into the arms of the very worst promoters of that "awful thing".
2. Unreformable and Undemocratic
"Decision-making in the EU is dominated by unelected bodies such as the European Commission and European Central Bank".
The old "EU is undemocratic" canard does have some element of sense to it. The European Central Bank is undemocratic, and membership of the European Commission is decided by appointment by national governments, not by elections. However, these criticisms look pretty damned ridiculous coming from people who want to remove power from these institutions and transfer it to significantly more anti-democratic institutions in the UK. 
The ECB is unelected, but so too is the Bank of England. The 28 person European Commission is unelected, but so too is the shockingly bloated 800+ member House of Lords (the largest unelected legislative chamber in the entire World). 
Brexit would also transfer an awful lot more power to the Tory government, who currently stand accused of unlawfully cheating their way into government by financially doping their election campaigns in over two dozen marginal constituencies. 
Anyone using the "undemocratic EU" argument to call for the UK to quit the EU when our legislative bodies are such an anti-democratic shambles, is clearly stating nothing more than "British anti-democratic practices are superior to European anti-democratic practices", even though the reality is clearly the opposite.
3 Rights and Justice
"It is a myth that the EU defends workers".

The first two points were grounded in fact, but this one is an outright lie. The working time directive (which prevents your boss from forcing you to work more than 48 hours per week) and stuff like guaranteed holiday entitlements come from the European Union. The EU has it's faults for sure, but to pretend that EU legislation designed to protect workers just doesn't exist to promote a political agenda is just as bad as the lying tactics of Vote Leave.

4. Fortress Europe
 
"The freedom of movement of labour does not apply to EU citizens" ... "The EU is engaged in the mass deportation of refugees from Greece" ... "EU treaties openly link to NATO".
This is just a jumble of incredibly loosely related things. It's actually quite difficult to critique such a loosely defined argument but I'll give it a go.
"The freedom of movement of labour does not apply to EU citizens"
The free movement of Labour does not apply to non-EU citizens (unless they are the spouse of EU citizens, in which case it actually does). It's hard to see the link between this piece of information and the case to vote for Brexit. What do they want? Do they want Freedom of Movement scrapped, or do they want it expanded to include the entire global population?
"The EU is engaged in the mass deportation of refugees from Greece"
The decision to begin deporting refugees from Greece is appalling, but how does running away from the EU do anything to actually resolve this problem? Will the UK quitting the EU stop the deportation of refugees? Of course it won't. It would take a coordinated plan of action to reverse a policy like that. So how is this piece of information relevant to the decision to leave, other than trying to create a "EU - yuck" reaction?
"EU treaties openly link to NATO"
The idea that the UK quitting the EU would have any impact on NATO is fantastical nonsense. Does anyone believe that the Tory government would quit NATO if they were "freed from the EU shackles"? Does anybody believe that the UK quitting the EU would inspire any other EU member states to quit NATO? The bit about NATO is just an odd conclusion to a staggeringly unformed argument.
5. Heading Right?
"If Britain votes to leave, it won’t automatically mean a move to the right. The Tories are being torn apart by debate over the EU. If Cameron loses, he will almost certainly go. If a Conservative government survives, it will be hopelessly fragile" ... "The rich and powerful overwhelmingly support British membership. The City, the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors all support the status quo".

The idea that a vote for Brexit won't automatically mean a move to the right looks an awful lot like wishful thinking. If Cameron is deposed he will almost certainly be replaced by one of the even more fanatically right-wing Tories from the hard-right fringe of the party. Whether he is deposed or not some things are certain. Both sides of the Tory party have sworn to use any post-Brexit economic turmoil as an excuse to impose even more of their socially and economically destructive right-wing austerity agenda. George Osborne promised more hard-right austerity dogma as part of a punishment budget, and Iain Duncan Smith has described years more of punishing austerity as "a price worth paying" to achieve Brexit (which is understandable stance for him to take given that it will be the poor paying the price, not wealthy Tory MPs living in plush country estates that they inherited from their in-laws).

Aside from the inevitable pro-austerity Tory reaction to Brexit, there are certain things that will need to be done. The UK legal system will have to be restructured to disentangle it from EU lawthe UK constitution will be under threat from another Scottish independence referendum and debates over the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and UK foreign relations will have to be reformed as the UK negotiate a settlement with the EU, and draw up new trade agreements with dozens and dozens of non-EU countries. Brexit would be a green light for the Tories to go on an ideological rampage through all of these areas.



The part about most big businesses supporting Remain is a classic bit of cherry-picking, they conveniebtly forgot to mention that most of the trade unions support Remain too.

Another factor to consider is that not all big businesses are sworn enemies of the left, but Rupert Murdoch definitely is. If you find yourself on the same side as a guy who is as rabidly opposed to the objectives of the left as Rupert Murdoch, it's a poor argument to begin cherry-picking "baddies" on the other side of the debate because people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.


What is the actual Lexit plan

I've repeatedly asked Lexit supporters to outline their plan for stopping the Tories from imposing even more post-Brexit austerity (that will undoubtedly hit the classic victims of Tory ideology - the poor, the working poor, the unemployed, sick and disabled people, people who live in Labour voting areas, public sector workers, students, young people ...) and to stop them going on a radical right-wing rampage through the UK legal system, constitution and foreign relations.

None of them have been able to answer. There doesn't seem to be a structured plan at all, just some kind of wishy-washy hope that a newly empowered Tory party would collapse of its own accord just at the moment where they have the golden opportunity to write their hard-right Thatcherite dogma through pretty much the entire UK legal system.

Voting for Lexit if the UK had a left-liberal government could well make sense, but doing so when the government is even more radically right-wing that the Thatcher regime is clearly incredibly risky.

If you're going to take a big risk like that you need to have a clearly defined plan of action in order to prevent a destructive Tory rampage, or at least mitigate some of the worst of the social and economic damage.

As far as I can see Lexit have nothing.


What is the motivation for Lexit


There are some very strong left-wing arguments against the EU, especially their so-called "competition rules" (that are designed to prevent national governments nationalising vital infrastructure even if they have a strong democratic mandate to do so) and the way that the EU institutions have ganged up with the IMF to force toxic hard-right ideological austerity onto member nations like Greece. 

The problem is that large left-wing vote to leave the EU could clearly empower a devastating Tory rampage through the UK economy, legal system, foreign relations and constitution, yet there is no clear strategy from the Lexit movement to prevent this from happening, or even to mitigate the worst of the fallout.

As far as I can see there are only two options to explain this refusal to consider the actual real world consequences. They're either in denial that the Tories would go on the ideological rampage, which is an extraordinarily complacent stance to take given the Tories' appalling track record in government over the preceding six years, and the fact that their hapless Lib-Dem sidekicks helped them rig parliament so that they can cling onto power until the end of their five year term even in the face of massive popular opposition.

The other option is that Lexiters fully understand what the consequences will be, but they see it as "a price worth paying". Perhaps they're imagining that an unrestrained Tory rampage in combination with the economic fallout from Brexit would make living conditions in the UK so awful that the public would finally rise up to support a left-wing revolution?

If enabling a savage Tory rampage in order to make a left-wing revolt more likely is the motivation it's an incredibly risky strategy indeed. There's no guarantee that a revolution could overthrow the Tories (especially given the way they're intent on rewriting UK law to abolish freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for loosely-defined "extremists", ruthlessly stamping down on trade union activity and even trying to introduce the concept of suspected thought crime into the UK legal system).

Additionally, should it even happen, there's absolutely no guarantee that a revolution against the political establishment would be a left-wing one. The rise in fascist populism across the Europe, the United States and in the UK too is a clear indicator that a social revolution fuelled by reactionary extreme-right populism seeking to blame Muslims, immigrants and the left for the appalling social conditions created by the right could be just as likely as a social revolution fuelled by socialism, social justice and solidarity.


Conclusion


Even though there are plenty of legitimate left-wing arguments against the EU, a mass of left-wing people voting for Brexit could be a very dangerous move indeed when the most radically right-wing government in memory is in power. It's especially dangerous because Brexit would almost certainly result in another Tory lurch to the right with hard-right fanatics like Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, Chris Grayling and Boris Johnson (and possibly even Nigel Farage) vying for seats at the top table.

The five Lexit arguments critiqued at the beginning of the article are weak enough, but the lack of anything resembling a coherent plan of action to stop, or even mitigate the damage the Tories could do is alarming.

Wishy-washy displays of optimism like "
If a Conservative government survives, it will be hopelessly fragile" just won't cut it. The idea that the Tories would just meekly give up power at such a crucial moment and allow the left to take over is hopelessly naive. What is needed from Lexit is a strong unified plan of action, and I've not seen anyone from the Lexit camp even begin to outline what such a plan would look like, let alone witnessed the Lexit movement begin unifying behind such a plan.

As far as I'm concerned a lot of the Lexit camp seem to be suffering the same kind of naive optimism as the right-wing Vote Leave supporters who unquestioningly accept and regurgitate all of their outright lies and their completely uncosted spending pledges. A lot of Lexiters seem to be imagining that everything will be hunky dory as soon as the UK quits the EU, which just isn't the way the world works, especially when there's a radically right-wing and extremely malicious bunch of Tories in government.



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