Don't Be Fooled: There Is Nothing Progressive About 'Lexit'

06/06/2016 11:54

As the referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union draws closer, it's difficult not to be reminded of the divisiveness that pervaded the debate in the closing stages of the Scottish independence referendum campaign almost two years ago. Claims and counter-claims, both sides vying to be crowned 'the most patriotic', downright untruths and exaggerations; all features of this most recent stage in our collective history.

I've cast my vote already. For me, as a Green Party activist and trade unionist, membership of the EU is a no-brainer. The same can not be said of all of my comrades, hence the recent birth of a brand new portmanteau: Lexit.

Left-wing proponents of withdrawal from the EU refer to a 'bosses club' and often cite Greece's woes as an example of the EU's innate obsession with austerity and neoliberal economics. For them, the insidious threat of TTIP proves that the European project is unsalvageable from a progressive point of view.

Worryingly, the Lexit camp seem obstinately blind to several realities. When Raoul Ruparel, co-director of Open Europe, an 'independent policy think tank', appeared before the Business, Innovation and Skills select committee back in May, he was asked about the potential benefits of Brexit to business. He named three principal areas in which business could 'free itself' of EU regulation: decent working conditions for agency staff, environmental protections and the Working Time Directive. In a nutshell, the business world, to which Lexit supporters so often accuse the EU of being in thrall, could disregard areas of essential regulation that could see workers' rights hugely diminished and the 'inconvenience' of environmental responsibility consigned to history.

To my mind, there is nothing left-wing about a willingness to take that risk. Are people who are admirably out on the streets almost weekly in protest at this government's attacks on workers, disabled people and the unemployed seriously prepared to risk leaving these areas in the hands of the Tory government, with no recourse to supranational justice? That's not a progressive politics that I feel able to subscribe to.

Regarding the iniquitous TTIP, it is abundantly clear that the plan lies in tatters. People power across the continent has meant that proponents of this nefarious deal have been rendered powerless before an enraged public determined to hold back the tide of deregulation and privatisation. Who's to say that the UK government, when negotiating its own post-Brexit free trade arrangements, would not seek to conceive its own version of TTIP, or worse? British progressives would find themselves isolated, devoid of the pan-European solidarity that has underpinned the paralysis of TTIP in its current form.

To be frank, it is mainly middle-class, academic progressives arguing for Lexit, i.e. those with little to lose in indulging their ultimate fantasy of an immediate global socialist utopia. Of course, their navel-gazing takes no account of one very pertinent point. The European Union as we know it reflects the philosophies of the national governments of its member states, the vast majority of which are currently conservative in nature. Are Lexiters seriously suggesting that a union of governments lead by parties such as Syria and Podemos is not possible? If so, we may as well collectively throw in the towel and give up campaigning for progressive politics. Another Europe is possible but it begins at home.

For left-wing thinkers to support 'Lexit', in other words a leap into the relative unknown for millions of working people, feels like a betrayal at a time when so many are sadly being exploited by UKIP via their narrative of 'look, that immigrant is taking your cookie'. Given that the country's largest employers, as well as the Trades Union Congress and every mainstream progressive left-wing party in the country are emphasising the potentially catastrophic impact of a 'leave' victory on 23 June, it strikes me as short-sighted at best, and downright self-indulgent at worst, for so-called progressives to lend their voices to a campaign that would usher in the most grave period of uncertainty for workers' rights in living memory.

The scourge of neoliberalism capitalism will not be eradicated by pulling up the drawbridge and going it alone. We must continue to join forces with our allies the length and breadth of Europe to fight for equality, justice, peace and democracy, at home, in Europe and beyond.