Shabbir Lakha reports from the first anti-EU meeting organised by the left. This needs to be the start of a concerted campaign
On 23 June 2016 Britons will have the chance to vote on whether or not they want to stay in the EU for the first time since 1975. Since the announcement of the referendum, the media and topic of political conversation has largely been dominated by the idea of a ‘Brexit’ from the EU, and the pros and cons of such a decision.
While the political establishment and mainstream media are aligned on campaigning to stay in the EU, at present, both sides of the argument are posed in right-wing terms and are using anti-immigrant rhetoric. Which is why on Wednesday, the anti-EU left organised a timely meeting explaining the left-wing case for leaving the EU.
All the speakers on the panel argued why it is an inherently socialist position to leave the EU: because it is an undemocratic, neoliberal and militarist organisation that, since its inception as a Cold War institution, is dedicated to inhibiting socialist initiatives. They also unanimously clarified that campaigning to leave the EU does not mean accepting racist arguments; it was pointed out that Nigel Farage’s position on refugees is now already official EU policy following the rising fences and the EU-Turkey deal signed last week.
Prior to the meeting, I, like many people, was unsure of what stance to take on the EU. Here are some of the points made during the meeting that convinced me to campaign for leaving:
- The EU is institutionally committed to austerity. Austerity is a failed economic policy that has harmed millions of the most vulnerable people across Europe. In the past few years, the EU has actively undermined democracy in Ireland, Portugal and Greece to enforce these policies and push bailout packages for the benefit of private, unregulated European banks.
- The EU is a militarist institution. The militarist nature of the EU is highlighted by the ‘strategic partnership’ of the EU with Nato, which has led expansionist policies such as in Ukraine, disastrous interventions such as in Libya, and has demonstrated its part in the horrendous mishandling of the refugee crisis by deploying warships in the Aegean Sea.
- The EU is committed to pursuing TTIP. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will deregulate trade between the EU and the USA and will put the power of economic decisions in the hands of multinational corporations. Nationalisation of the railways, for example, which has a great deal of support amongst the public, would be prohibited under TTIP. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist recently said that Britain is better off leaving the EU than being a part of TTIP.
- The EU has a structural lack of democracy, transparency and accountability. A testament to this was the comment made by the European Commission’s Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, when confronted with a petition signed by over 3 million Europeans against TTIP: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”
- The EU is unreformable. The EU cannot be reformed because the people have no democratic influence over the European Commission or the European Central Bank, and in the European Parliament where MEPs are voted for once in 5 years, there is no accountability over the MEPs of other countries. As Lindsey German pointed out, the European Parliament has less power than the Scottish Parliament.
- The EU does not allow the free movement of all labour. Even when it comes to internal migrants, fences are going up around Europe. The Schengen Agreement is effectively history. But the free movement has only been for Europeans. The idea that 2.3 million Europeans living in Britain will be deported or vice versa for the 2.2 million British citizens living in EU countries is unfounded and nothing more than scaremongering because the UK would still be part of the EEA Agreement if it left the EU.
- The EU is an inherently neoliberal institution. Neoliberalism is enshrined in the EU Constitution. Its economic partnerships with African and Caribbean countries, such as the Common Agricultural Policy, are instruments of neo-colonialism that act against the interests of the people of these countries.
Last summer, there was a surge in political enthusiasm behind the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party based on a mandate that includes the renationalisation of the railways, postal services and reversing and stopping privatisation of the NHS. As a speaker from the RMT Union eloquently explained, these are all things that would not be possible under the framework of the EU, which stands against public ownership and which would inhibit Jeremy Corbyn from carrying out such policies if Labour were to be elected at the next election.
Whether far right voices are more vocal on leaving the EU or the media are deliberately framing the argument in a way that makes it appear as though it’s the only platform from which to campaign to leave the EU – and I suspect it’s both – it is extremely important for the left to organise, be vocal and make the rational case for Brexit – or Lexit (Left Exit) as Tariq Ali calls it. It is imperative for people to hear these arguments and understand that campaigning to leave the EU does not mean aligning with this right-wing rhetoric.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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