An article by the Guardian’s Toby Moses appears today taking on the issue of left-wing arguments for or against Brexit. It features a very pointed first line: “What self-respecting lefty wants to line up alongside Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Iain Duncan Smith?”
It would be too easy simply to dismiss this as pure folly (for example, I could say what self-respecting lefty wants to line up alongside David Cameron, George Osborne, the CBI, JPMorgan AND Jeremy Clarkson), but given how frequently it’s used as a reason to oppose Brexit it deserves a little more attention.
On the issues that should spur on a left wing argument for Brexit, Moses is absolutely correct (“bloated, undemocratic bureaucracy”; “the treatment of Greece and Syriza was the moment the EU crossed the Rubicon”; “Privatisation … is broadly encouraged by the EU”; “the EU demanded that nationalised postal services be opened up to competition”; “TTIP … allows corporations from across the Atlantic access to each other’s markets and, with the “investor-state dispute settlement”, threatens to give private corporations the ability to take governments to court if their profits are infringed upon”). But Moses’ argument to oppose Brexit from the Left boils down to the following: it is unlikely that Tory control of a post-EU, sovereign UK is going to make things any better.
He goes on:
“…given who controls the country currently, how can any leftwinger, with good conscience, believe that Britain will be any better off outside the EU when it will be Cameron, Osborne and quite possibly Johnson who lead negotiations on what our relationship with Europe will look like thereafter? They would have free rein to roll back the many important protections that EU membership offers us.”
But equally how can any leftwinger, with good conscience, vote to Remain when they know about how undemocratic the EU is, how they treat periphery EU nations and carve up the Eurozone into rich creditor nations and poor debtor nations? How can any leftwinger sit back and vote to remain in an institution which obliges privatisation to the point where renationalising our services be illegal? How can any leftwinger sit back and vote to remain in an institution that we pay to belong to, which forces competition in sectors that clearly lack cooperation and funding, like the postal services and NHS? How can it be that someone acknowledges the inherent democratic deficit within the EU and then offer it tacit support?
He mentions the following: “Workers’ rights, human rights, police coordination, inward investment in the arts, science, sport”. But does the author have any evidence that these things are impossible outside of the EU? Can he even expand on the extent to which the EU is actually a guarantee for these things?
Obviously the author worries about the Tories and their attitudes to workers, human rights, investment in the arts and sciences etc. But the difference between being in the EU and out of it is key: within the EU we cannot vote out the hegemons of neoliberalism who sit in Brussels. Out of it, we can vote out the hegemons of neoliberalism who sit within Westminster.
It could be 40 years before we have another vote on the EU. It might never be voted upon again, who knows. But persuading us - the electorate - that the Tories are a political nightmare, while being outside of the EU, is the only real way to advance a truly left wing vision. We know it won’t happen with the Tories in charge, but, importantly, it’s impossible to achieve it within the EU for reasons Moses gives himself.
He concludes saying “If you judge a person by their friends, those who opt to campaign for Brexit are in great trouble indeed”. I’d rather be judged on my principles and for reaching political decisions based on my values, not how they might appear to people making cheap shots.