I'm a trustee of Water For Africa, an innovative charity that trains local people to provide sustainable water supplies for their communities. As grateful as people are for fresh, clean water, the one message that keeps coming back to us is that they long for the day that Europe opens its doors for trade. In general, most people don't want to leave their homes, friends and families, but in Gambia men have little choice but to leave villages to go to the big cities in search of opportunity. When they find none, they are tempted by offers from traffickers who say that for the right sum, they can get people to Europe.
A Water For Africa Truck Working in Gambia
EU trade tariffs and subsidies are hurting African economies. Europe used to account for more than 60% of trade with Africa. That figure has fallen to less than 25%. West Africa used to run a surplus balance of trade with Europe - it now runs a deficit. We export more to West Africa than we buy, effectively extracting money from their economies. People across Africa long for the liberalisation of the European market. They want to trade their way out of poverty. Long term investment and sustainable growth are Africa's only hope of eradicating endemic poverty, but the EU's protectionist policies are robbing the poorest nations in the world of the chance to trade with a massive, wealthy market right on their doorstep.
The EU is also hurting Africa by taking its food. Gambia is a perfect example of this. It is a coastal nation with rich fishing grounds, but those grounds are trawled by boats from Europe. The average Gambian fisherman now has to spend twelve hours per day at sea to catch the same quantity of fish that he caught in six hours a few years ago. The richest countries in the world are exploiting cheap African waters, robbing indigenous people of the ability to feed themselves or to make a living.
A Water For Africa Borehole Drilled in Gambia
If taking money and food weren't bad enough, the EU is hurting Africa by taking its people. Unable to trade their way out of poverty, what else can people do but head for the rich nations that lie a short boat ride away? The EU's policies are contributing to the mass exodus of people from countries who cannot afford to lose their best and brightest young men and women. How will nations ever address poverty if they are losing hundreds and thousands of men and women who would otherwise be instrumental in creating wealth and building success? The EU will accept people with open arms, but it will not open itself up for trade. We believe we're being kind taking in migrants, but it is our economic policies that have brought them here, and, as imperialists have done so many times in the past, we are robbing Africa of its vibrant young.
I'm puzzled by the fact that so many of my friends on the left support a protectionist club of rich nations who are exploiting the massive disparity that exists between them and the poorest continent on Earth. The EU is utterly contrary to socialist ideology, but somehow many have become convinced that it is a force for good.
If the EU's impact on poor nations wasn't bad enough, it is also engaged in domestic policies that run counter to socialist ideology. We've all noticed the transformation of the British high street. Every town and city looks virtually the same, with the same chain stores. Independent businesses simply cannot compete with multinational corporations that can trade in one country but run their profits through another, and gain a meaningful advantage by not having to pay Corporation Tax.
The same people who want to see more devolution for the regions will often rally to the defence of the EU, but it is the embodiment of a centralised, undemocratic system. Even if every single Member of Parliament disagreed with an EU law, our nation would be bound by it because of treaties that were negotiated in our name, but without our consent. The European Parliament is reminiscent of the Supreme Soviet, a body that simply rubber stamped the decisions of the USSR's Politburo. And the EU has its own Politburo, the European Commission, 28 unelected men and women who are the true source of the laws that shape our continent.
Tony Benn, an inspiration to me and many others, advised us to ask five questions of the powerful:
1. What power have you got?
2. Where did you get it from?
3. In whose interest do you exercise it?
4. To whom are you accountable?
5. How can we get rid of you?
Ask those questions of the people who wield power at the EU and the answers should terrify anyone who has the slightest interest in democracy.
We currently spend £55million per day funding the EU. This is money that isn't going on British schools, hospitals, care for the elderly or other important social projects. Instead it is going to support a club of wealthy nations and pay for farm subsidies and other initiatives that give Europeans an unfair advantage in the world and make it even more difficult for poorer nations to compete with us. In a nation where 590 people have committed suicide as a result of having their benefits cut, we have to ask whether the UK can justify the cost.
Much is made of Britain's rebate, but hardly anyone knows how it actually works. We get money back based on the proportion of farming subsidy received by the 15 EU countries who were members prior to 2004. That proportion is falling, which means that over time our rebate will fall. But the amount isn't as important as the way in which we receive the funds; we can't simply spend the money on what we like - the EU directs us as to how we can spend the rebate.
Perhaps the biggest clue that the EU is at odds with social democracy is TTIP. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a powerful indication of the EU's true loyalties. The agreement will make every nation in Europe subservient to multinational businesses. Corporations will be able to sue governments if they implement a change to the law that causes the corporation economic loss. This will be the final triumph of capitalism over democracy, and must terrify anyone who is already worried about the ability of the rich and powerful to dominate and exploit us.
Any one of these problems with the EU would be enough to give people cause to reflect, but taken together they provide an overwhelming rationale for Britain to leave this undemocratic, elitist, corporate club. I can only hope that Jeremy Corbyn will have the courage to say what he really thinks about the EU, and that he will provide the Labour Party with the ideological leadership that it so desperately needs.