So it turns out taking back control from the European Union really meant handing it over to large businesses. The Leave campaigners have shown their true colours, namely Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
The end to the Working Time Directive proposed by Gove isn’t just a slash of progressive rights laid out by the EU but one that transfers power from workers to employers. It means that the working hour limit of 48 hours in a week could end and people would lose overtime, and be forced to work ridiculous hours to make ends meet. In a time when Britain faces crippling levels of productivity and needs to consider how to accrue the most from its workforce, there’s a debate to be had that less hours actually produces greater productivity. In fact, statistics bear that out.
Instead, we could be going the other way around. And with it could go a flood of rights and freedoms that the EU protected for workers. But really, why are we surprised that the same people who lied about the £350m pledge for the NHS would cite Brexit as the empowering rebirth of the British worker and then systematically rob that same group?
The only beneficiaries from this are large businesses. It’s often overlooked how much they could potentially benefit if Britain departs from the single market. Sure, it makes Britain a diminished trading site, but it makes the scenario of rock-bottom tax rates and private sector growth all the more likely. To compete and attract, Britain would find itself giving powers away to corporations.
The other curious phenomenon to this is how the British working class are adored by sections of the media when it comes to vested interests, particularly around immigration. Then, these are hard-working Britons deprived by an unfair system calibrated to simply nourish the pockets of the migrant worker at the cost of the local. And yet, mention rolling back austerity and introducing a fairer welfare system and higher wages to improve the living conditions of these very people, and they are suddenly ‘benefit scroungers’ and ‘lazy’ people undeserving of collective compassion.
That the Brexiteers have lied and misled voters is unsurprising but there is a degree of frustrating stubbornness to many Leave voters in refusing to even address this. An attempt at false equivalency is made by reimagining the referendum battles as one where the Remain made as if not more outlandish and exaggerated claims as Leave did. The Brexit deal looks grim by the day, from the £50bn divorce bill to the potential of losing an array of individual rights. Every day it weakens the Tories by exposing their inability to get on top of a mess they had created.
Labour’s own position on Brexit is unclear, deliberately, but soon the need to please someone and offend the other will come. Labour’s split over the European Union highlights some unusual traditional tropes within the British left regarding internationalism and supranational bodies of power.
There is a school of thought within Labour’s camp of classic socialists who regard the European Union as a capitalist club that represents a threat to workers’ interests and public ownership. This is exactly a contributing factor as to why Britain didn’t initially join the European Economic Community, as they felt that the EU would undermine Britain’s industrial strategy by imposing privatisation. Throughout the years, Labour’s orthodox socialists have viewed the EU with a degree of suspicion, and to this tradition belong the likes of Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They would point to the EU’s treatment of Greece as proof that it’s simply a neoliberal institution.
But this thinking represents a dangerous nostalgia for Labour’s socialists and points to some really intellectually vacuous arguments that contradict reality and worse, ignores it. For starters, the notion that the EU prevents public ownership ignores how countries such as Germany gets around the situation by creating private enterprises where the state acts as the largest shareholder. Such imagination was once found in New Labour but is sadly lacking now in the party. Most of the ideas are simply the reheated arguments of the past.
The other more basic problem of this thinking is that it seeks to reverse globalisation rather than accept the natural course of events. Labour socialists refuse to recognise that cross-border issues such as climate change and terrorism cannot be tackled without international cooperation. More to the point, in the age of when multinational corporations can flit easily beyond borders, the power of the nation-state is severely curtailed in what it can achieve. Most of our rights and progressive ideas now can only really be implemented by working with others, which is what the EU envisaged. A lot of our workers’ rights currently, simply put, are protected because of the EU. Without that connection, Britain is a country of limited market appeal.