The left-wing argument for leaving the EU burns with passion – and has done for decades

Fire Exit sign

by DAVID WILLIAMSON

Think of a eurosceptic and who springs to mind?

You might picture Ukip’s Nigel Farage or former Conservative Welsh Secretary David Jones, who is now actively involved in a campaign to persuade voters to take Britain out of the European Union.

Take a look left

Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock’s interview about how he changed his mind on Europe has reminded us that not that long ago many of the most powerful voices against European integration were found on the left.

Today, Welsh champions of EU membership include Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams. Yes, there are plenty of Welsh Conservatives who would prefer to stay in a reformed EU but you could easily get the sense that hostility to continuing membership is a right-wing phenomenon.

Nevertheless, there are articulate and committed figures on the left who want Britain to chart its own destiny in the decades ahead, free of entanglements with the EU. In fact, left-wing support for Brexit is so strong in some circles there is talk about ‘Lexit”.

Were the people of Greece ‘crushed underfoot’ by Europe?

Former Respect MP George Galloway locked horns with Aberavon Labour MP Stephen Kinnock on the BBC’s Sunday Politics and argued that the EU, far from being a progressive force, encourages the “neoliberal” policies which many on the left abhor.

He said: “The whole basis of the European Union, as we always said from 1975 onwards on the left, the European Community, now the EU, is actually built on neoliberal economic principles which are iron-clad and unchangeable however people want to vote.”

He claimed that “the people of Greece were crushed underfoot by this neoliberal consensus on which the EU and its main institutions are built”.

Is this the type of EU you want?

Contemporary left-wing euro-scepticism has been fuelled by two key factors. The first is the way in which Greece’s democratically elected left-wing Government went through torrid negotiations with unelected bodies such as the European Commission and the European Central Bank in its bid to stay solvent and continue as a member of the eurozone.

Not only did this seem like a denial of Greece’s democratic sovereignty, there was fury at the cuts to public services.

Suddenly, the EU did not look like a force which protected Europe’s social democratic traditions and acted as a defence against an erosion of workers’ rights. Did it just chain the hands of what might have been the most radical left-wing government in modern European history?

TTIP – a four letter word that sparks fear and anger

The second factor that is driving suspicions that the EU is ultimately on the side of big business is the multi-billion pound trade treaty being negotiated with the United States behind closed doors.

Supporters claim the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will help small businesses break into the US without having to jump through an impossible series of bureaucratic loops. But critics fear it will further empower multinational companies, stop future governments rolling back privatisation and lead to a watering down of environmental, consumer and employment regulations.

There is also concern on the British left that some of the lowest paid workers are losing out as a result of EU migration. The argument runs that while middle-classes have enjoyed having easy access to newly arrived plumbers and electricians, some of the worst-off workers have seen their wages pushed down.

Owen Jones, the influential left-wing writer, commented in July that the “ case for Lexit grows ever stronger ”.

The ghost of Labour past

Such arguments will make some in the Labour movement think back to 1975 when the party held a special conference ahead of that year’s membership referendum. The result was a near 2-1 victory for Out campaigners.

The Leave.EU campaign has distributed quotes by Jeremy Corbyn in which he does not sound particularly excited about various aspects of the EU’s influence on Britain and the world

However, it would take an absolute revolution in the Labour party for it to move from its pro-EU stance ahead of a referendum which could be held as soon as June.

Which side do you want to be on?

Many of today’s MPs came of age watching Margaret Thatcher battle left-of-centre European politicians. When Tony Blair won power Britain signed up to the social charter and progressives were delighted at this defence of workers’ rights.

There was strong expectation in these heady days that Mr Blair would take Britain into the euro, that the UK would soon be a sparkling example of a prosperous democracy at the heart of Europe, no longer moping about the loss of empire.

What’s the real choice?

Membership of the euro no longer looks like much fun. And much of the idealism about the EU has faded with the rise of hard right anti-immigrant parties in several member states.

The EU has flunked successive international challenges on its doorstep. It failed to respond decisively to the conflict which erupted as Yugoslavia collapsed and it has dithered over Syria and the mounting refugee crisis.

But until a truly tantalising alternative vision for the UK’s future is presented, millions on the left will reckon we are better off In.

 

From Wales Online

From Wales Online