My mood was lifting as yesterday progressed: those I talked to and much that I read confirmed that people had really voted for Remain on Thursday. And that they intended to do so again. The reasons were pretty obvious. For brevity I will reduce them to a limited list, starting with the negatives.
First, there is the fact that Brexit is, and has only ever been a serious project for the hard-right. It has the aim of destroying regulation that protects most people from abuse. It makes it possible for for Britain to be a tax haven. And it lets capital flow, if not unfettered then at least with greater freedom than ever through London and that will impose even greater cost on us all than the City does now. This arch-neoliberal project is clearly about increasing inequality and people reject that.
Second, they also reject an idea that clearly tears apart the UK’s national commitments, whether to the Union; the Good Friday Agreement or to those countries who have been our partners for so long now. They realise that the resulting loss of trust in the UK makes the idea of future deals laughable. Who wants to partner someone who has proved they will not keep their promises?
Third, there is the failure to people. That is the failure to consider those from Europe who live and work here. And the failure to consider those from the UK who live and work in Europe. And the failure to consider all those who have their rights stripped from them, whether they have as yet exercised them or not. This abuse of people’s freedoms is unacceptable. Let’s ignore the costs. There are principles at stake.
Fourth, there is the obvious fact that Brexit is not possible. It should be obvious to anyone bar Theresa May, and now Jeremy Corbyn, that there is no way the negotiated deal will pass parliament. And it is even more obvious that there is no such thing as No Deal. Quite literally the day after a No Deal Brexit the UK would have to go to the EU to get a deal: there is no other way that arrangements with the EU, and other countries, could be managed but by doing that. So first of all No Deal does not exist. And second, there is no evidence from anywhere that any such deals will be offered on better terms than now. For example, the US has said they will only do a trade deal with us if we respect the Good Friday Agreement, and that requires that we be in the Customs Union with the EU and single market. Australia, India and China will do deals but only with enhanced migration rights. And the EU will, I am sure, do a deal, but at considerably greater cost than the one we have. And all that will take years and in the meantime the cost will be enormous, and probably unsustainable as people literally die because, for example, we cannot trade the drugs and other essential products needed for their well-being. At a practical level Brexit it impossible both in reality and politically, with every outcome worse than at present.
There are then very good reasons then to reject Brexit because of the harm it will cause. And they have become more apparent over time, not less. You only have to care for this country (the UK, that is, and not just England), or to care about the people who live here, or to worry about your neighbours, and to be concerned about your neighbourhood and how it might function, to realise Brexit is a disastrous idea based solely on division and the abandonment of any sense of community. And to most people such things matter.
But let’s ignore the negative. Let’s look at the positive. The positive reasons for staying in the EU are that it has worked. We have had more stability in Europe. We have let people move to work. We have permitted travel. And study. And this has increased understanding. The removal of borders has improved people’s lives. And it has reduced tensions.
And we did manage the collapse of the Iron Curtain better by having the EU. Not perfectly, because nothing is perfect. But better.
Whilst we have also enhanced the rights of many groups in society. From workers rights, to environmental regulation, to defeating tax abuse, we are better off for The EU. And we have less regulation than trying to comply with 28 competing regimes would require.
I could go on, but the summary is that the result is that we are better off.
But there have been negatives. The EU has been too heavily influenced by neoliberalism. But the answer is not to ditch the EU. It is to ditch neoliberalism. And when Brexit is solely about promoting neoliberalism it has to be the worst way possible to achieve that goal. But worse are the arguments that the EU cannot beat neoliberalism: that way lies the path to fascism and the corporate state because this is to acquiesce in the plan.
And it is simply not necessary. I am deeply frustrated by many EU regulations. I mistrust the motives of those who advised they be created. I think they are harmful. So I want to change them. And that I know if I have never changed anything by turning my back on it and pretending it is not there. Whilst some of the claims about what is not possible are simply lies. State intervention is possible in the EU. As is nationalisation. And so too is the NHS, which Brexit is intended to destroy. What may not be possible is 1945 blanket nationalisation. But so what? It did not work in that form. Surely that is obvious? Selective nationalisation is however possible, as is the Green New Deal. As is a state investment bank. As is regulation to control business, which has the potential in the right hands and with the right motivation to be at least as powerful as nationalisation. So let’s reject the nonsense. Because most of the Lexit claims come from parts of the left’s spectrum that are deeply materialistic, profoundly antagonistic to most people and have zero electoral prospect, and I presume we remain democrats.
Which the EU is. Indeed, as Westminster now proves day in and day out, it may be significantly more accountable than our own failed system. That sets the bar low, but it shows how absurd the claim that the EU is undemocratic.
All of this motivated a tweet I wrote yesterday, which said:
I can understand why right-wingers want Brexit. They want to destroy regulation and let a financial elite run rampant. But I find Lexiteers incomprehensible. They want to create an environment that destroys regulation and lets a financial elite run rampant. And that’s insane.
Of course that’s not a perfect summary of my argument. But it addresses my deep frustration with those on the left who willingly line up next to George Galloway in delivering what Nigel Farage wants, with not a hope of ever actually achieving any of their real goals.
The EU is imperfect. Like just about every government, everywhere right now it is too influenced by big business, and it needs to be more robust in the defence of democracy given the threats within its boundaries. But of all the options available the three Rs of Revoke, Remain and Reform are the only one that makes any sense now.
Which is why, I suspect, not a single serious tax justice or Green New Deal campaigner I know wants Brexit. Not one of us wants the perpetuation of corrupt financial elites and the existing market structures, but we all think change is best effected through the EU and not outside it.
This is not the time for the left to permit Brexit.
Or to think it must acquiesce with what is fundamentally harmful to all the left stands for, just because an illegally and corruptly run election campaign once secured a vote by use of illicit means.
This is the time for the left to be positive about the goals we want to achieve, be they the Green New Deal, enhanced tax justice, better union and worker rights, better control of key industries, improved corporate accountability and co-ordinated minimum pay regulation, and demand Revoke, Remain and Reform, which is the only plausible left wing platform for the EU within the UK right now.