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Left-wing euroscepticism: a condensed primer


In a speech to the party conference in October, Gaitskell claimed that Britain's participation in a Federal Europe would mean "the end of Britain as an independent European state, the end of a thousand years of history!"


Tony Benn, for the Labour party, proposed a referendum be held on the permanence of the UK in the Communities. The eventual referendum in 1975 asked voters: "Parliament has decided to consult the electorate on the question whether the UK should remain in the European Economic Community: Do you want the UK to remain in the EEC?"


The Tory Edward Heath brought Britain into the EEC on the grounds that a Common Market was good for business. This shaped the opinions of radical Labour party figures like Tony Benn (Source:


Tony Benn fought against European integration by opposing membership of the European Common Market in that year's referendum. He is remembered on the subject as saying: "My view about the European Union has always been not that I am hostile to foreigners, but that I am in favour of democracy ... I think they're building an empire there, they want us to be a part of their empire and I don't want that."

Benn also said the following infamous words: “Ask yourself about the European Union or any other institution: what power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable and how can we get rid of you?”

Labour Eurosceptics feared the Common Market was a big “capitalist club” undoing the British socialism that Labour had made since the great post-war administration of 1945-51. As Jacotine and Wellings have pointed out: “When Britain had its first referendum on withdrawal from Europe in 1975, it was not the Conservatives raising questions of sovereignty, identity and democracy. It was Labour.” (Source:

Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour party, voted for Britain to leave the European Economic Community.

Michael Foot made a firm commitment – mirroring many other members of the Labour fraternity – against the undemocratic European Economic Community (EEC).


The year that withdrawal of the UK from a European Union was no longer official Labour party policy.


Jacques Delors, made a speech to the TUC arguing that the EU – despite its undemocratic nature – could serve left-wing causes. This – in spite of the inherent logical flaws, namely left-wing ends from undemocratic means – shaped a number of left-wing opinions, especially from within the Trades Unions movement.


The Labour party was said to have all but purged its remaining eurosceptics. (Source:

Ahead of the adoption of the EU’s founding Maastricht Treaty, Jeremy Corbyn said the following: “The whole basis of the Maastricht treaty is the establishment of a European Central Bank, which is staffed by bankers, independent of national governments and national economic policies, and whose sole policy is the maintenance of price stability … That will undermine any social objective that any Labour Government in the United Kingdom—or any other Government—would wish to carry out.” (Source:


Thirty-four MPs and peers including Denis Healey, form the Labour Against the Euro group, opposing British membership of the single currency. (Source:


Owen Jones, now-Guardian columnist and author of ‘Chavs’, wrote a blog for Labour List calling on the Left to find its voice on the EU. He wrote:

“While the Working Time Directive (which, shamefully, the UK secured an opt-out from) sets out a maximum working hour week, a number of attacks on workers’ rights have been introduced through the EU. For example, the European Court of Justice has issued judgements that have directly attacked workers’ rights – making it possible for employers to sue unions, or allowing workers posted to another country to be employed with the same conditions as their EU state of origin, encouraging a “race to the bottom”.

The left needs to be making these arguments about the EU, because they have real implications for working people in this country. Too often, the left has been paralysed on the issue, for fear of being lumped in with the UKIP brigade. But did anti-war activists line up with the BNP just because they too opposed the Iraq war?

As a socialist, I support building ever-stronger links between working people here and abroad – and not just arbitrarily confined to other workers in Europe. Given the globalised nature of capital, this is more important than ever. But the left needs to start to find its voice on the EU – and stop dismissing all critics as bigoted, insular nationalists.” (Source:


Portugal was announced the 8th most Eurosceptic country in the European Union whose Eurosceptic parties include MRPP (Portuguese Workers’ Communist Party), Portuguese Communist Party, and Left Bloc. In the European Parliament election, 2014, the Portuguese Communist Party took 3 seats and the Left Bloc took one seat.

Bob Crow, the RMT boss, before he died wrote an article in the Guardian calling for an EU exit “from the left”. In the article he dispelled the myth of “social Europe”, saying:

“Social EU legislation, which supposedly leads to better working conditions, has not saved one job and is riddled with opt-outs for employers to largely ignore any perceived benefits they may bring to workers. But it is making zero-hour contracts and agency-working the norm while undermining collective bargaining and full-time, secure employment. Meanwhile, 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the East Midlands still hang in the balance because EU law demanded that the crucial Thameslink contract go to Siemens in Germany rather than Bombardier in Derby.” (Source:


Owen Jones pens a strongly-worded article, steeped in the Bennite tradition, demanding that the Left “put Britain’s EU withdrawal on the agenda”, saying it’s “time to reclaim the Eurosceptic cause”. He popularises the term “Lexit”.

On TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership) he said:

“It would clear the way to not only expand the privatisation of our NHS, but make it irreversible too.”

On privatisation, he said:

“Royal Mail may have been privatised by the Tories, but it was the EU that began the process by enforcing the liberalisation of the natural monopoly of postal services. Want to nationalise the railways? That means you have to not only overcome European commission rail directive 91/440/EEC, but potentially the proposed Fourth Railway Package too.”

Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, calls Greece’s treatment from the troika as a “postmodern occupation”. (Source:

Kate Hoey writes for the Independent on why leaving the EU is a left-wing move. She says:

“The Labour Party has traditionally had a sceptical view of the European institutions. From Attlee to Foot, and until the late 1980s, Labour was predominantly Eurosceptic – but then, following three Thatcher victories, many on the Left looked desperately to Europe to block her policies. Wise Labour voices like Peter Shore and Tony Benn, however, argued that democratic faith in the wisdom of the public was a better guarantor than the benevolence of transitory political elites. They have been proved right as the EU is no longer motivated by Jacques Delors’ ‘Social Europe’, but is increasingly out of touch with the needs of its people.” (Source:

Present day:

Left wing regional groups (e.g. in Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia) identify the EU as a harbinger of what Edward Carden calls “Mediterranean misfortune.” (Source:

The European United Left–Nordic Green Left, an alliance of the left-wing parties in the European Parliament (including the Portuguese Left Bloc and Spain’s Podemos), has been defined by Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart as “soft Eurosceptic” (which maintains an opposition to a federal Europe or a European superstate).

We conclude on this note for the Steve Donlon’s blog for the Institute of Opinion:

“The acceptance of the EU by large elements of the British Left is surely not because the EU is more progressive or democratic than it was 30 years ago. Instead, the domestic political landscape seems to determine both parties policy on Europe. Labour tacticians should be convinced by the more cynical argument that if Labour called for a referendum and became more critical of Europe, they would devastatingly outflank the government, potentially leading to destabilising Tory infighting. With a historic referendum likely, left-wing, progressive criticisms of Europe remain relevant today, and should not be crowded out by the nationalist arguments of UKIP.”

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