THE UK HAS BEEN IN THE EU but never really of it – with the debate about our role in Europe never going beyond ‘in’ or ‘out’. European elections with a low participation have been the training ground for the Eurosceptic right’s assault.
While successive British governments have privileged their love affair with the US, including its insurance-based private healthcare and elected mayors, sections of the Eurosceptic left look to Vladimir Putin’s repressive and kleptocratic regime for inspiration. His example is one of the major reasons for the EU’s popularity in Eastern Europe. There is no significant demand for exit anywhere else – not in Greece battered by the Troika, and definitely not in Scotland.
Our referendum is the result of continued pressure from the right and the significance for the UK of Brexit will not be found in the speeches of internationalists who are not even a majority among the Eurosceptic left. A ‘No’ vote would be a victory for reaction, a victory for the right.
Despite the undemocratic governance of the EU, the Citizens’ Initiative provided a framework for the pan-EU campaign against TTIP, thefirst of its kind where large numbers of UK activists have participated alongside continental cousins. We should be developing this initiative which has put enormous pressure on MEPs and Commissioners. Who seriously thinks that if Brexit is the outcome of a referendum, London will not embrace TTIP before Brussels, that our campaigning strength under the Trade Union Act and our House of Lords will prove more robust an opposition once we are out out of the EU campaign?
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership should be playing a leading role in encouraging a movement which goes beyond opposition to TTIP and promotes public services and workers’ rights, a movement which mobilises grassroots activism as well as Labour MEPs. This is what Jeremy proposes. An orientation towards developing a pan-European movement against austerity and for workers’ rights would be a positive step forward.
There is no contradiction between being pro-European and internationalist at the same time. Most of the Eurosceptic left is heavily influenced by traditions which are profoundly nationalist in outlook – Labourism and socialism in one country.
I find it depressing to hear trade union leaders abandoning any notion of fighting for a mandatory living wage and unionising migrant workers by questioning free movement within the EU. Free movement within the EU is a gain for workers to be defended and extended against Fortress Europe. We should defend free movement and Schengen against attack not only by the Eurosceptics but also by sections of the EU elite.
How will a left already historically influenced by an insular and imperialist outlook become more internationalist by supporting Brexit when its loudest voices are xenophobic? Will we have more solidarity campaigns with third world countries? Would we have responded in the same way to the Greek tragedy if Greece had been out of the EU and subjected to the depradations of an IMF/ World Bank structural adjustment programme instead of the same deal imposed by the Troika?
The fight against austerity, against nationalistic and racist responses and for workers’ and social rights is both pan-European and international. We cannot retreat from capitalism by Brexit. We leave ourselves weakened and exposed. Alongside Corbyn, I will be voting ‘Yes’ despite Cameron’s attempts at sabotage.
is a member of Chesterfield Trades Council.