Brexit is the left-wing choice

The Labour Party has "mislaid its radical roots," says Gisela Stuart

March 01, 2016
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister David Cameron pictured during at the start of the meeting on the first day of an EU summit meeting, Thursday 18 February 2016, at the European Union
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister David Cameron pictured during at the start of the meeting on the first day of an EU summit meeting, Thursday 18 February 2016, at the European Union
Read more: Cameron might persuade us on the EU—so long as he doesn’t mention his deal

On 23rd June, we will have a once-in-a-generation chance to decide whether to remain a member of the European Union. We should vote to leave it—this is the left-wing choice.

When Prime Minister David Cameron started his negotiations, he said that if the reform package offered to the UK wasn’t good enough, he would recommend that Britain reject it. Now that he has struck a deal, he’s predicting hellfire and brimstone if Britain votes to leave. His concern over the risks of Brexit seems sudden. Was his initial display of EU scepticism insincere?

Having promised fundamental reform, Cameron came back with little more than an exemption from the (largely symbolic) phrase “ever closer union,” a brake on in-work benefits to EU migrants, and protection for the City of London as a financial hub. Welcome as these things are, they amount to mere tinkering.

Cameron is now encouraging us to move on from these specifics to see the “big picture”—why Brexit would harm our international standing. This was expected: her never thought he could achieve fundamental reform. Nor did he ever seriously think Britain might be better off outside the EU; he called the referendum to placate Eurosceptics within his party and to keep Ukip at bay. I do not have much in common politically with either group, but I agree with them that we must leave the European Union. I am convinced that the UK can and must do better.

I am puzzled that the Labour Party seems to have mislaid its radical roots. Why are we storming the barricades to be on the side of the FTSE 100, the status quo, and an institution that threw millions of young people on the unemployment scrapheap in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal just to save the euro?

True, in the 1980s the EU’s Delors Commission gave British women the equal pay that the Thatcher government denied us. But it was a Labour government that gave us the minimum wage, increased parental leave, and brought in legislation to deal with gang masters—and that fought for rights for temporary, part-time and agency workers in the face of opposition from the Tories and other EU countries. Without national protections and rights for workers, the free movement of labour championed by the EU is little more than a race to the bottom.

Leaving the EU will not mean a tearing up of workers’ contracts. Anyone who argues that the EU protects workers’ rights should look no further than how the troika (the European Central Bank, European Commission and International Monetary Fund) demolished workers' rights in Greece and other countries that received an EU bailout. And how significant are rights like guaranteed holidays if our steel industry has to close? The consistent rulings of the European Court of Justice have put business interests above workers. The Laval and Viking Line cases in 2007, for example, placed restrictions on the right of employees to strike.

In addition, the EU has become institutionally incapable of change. EU leaders should allow countries like Greece to leave the common currency without anyone suggesting that they must then leave the Union. Some member states will in future want to join up to the common currency, which will require deeper political and fiscal integration. Other countries will not. The structure of the EU’s institutions, the way decisions are made, must be built to cope with such complexity.

Furthermore, the EU has to stop undermining NATO, believing it can replace it. Independent European military capacity is much discussed but rarely delivered. I cannot think of a single significant military operation the EU could have executed without NATO assets. We keep spending less and less, hoping the US will fill the void, but the US wants us to step up and provide capacity. The real danger is that the US may decide it is no longer prepared to underwrite our collective defence, leaving us dangerously exposed.

This links to the need for a policy of offering countries in our neighbourhood alternatives to EU membership, such as a trading relationship. We may want to reflect on the longstanding shortcomings of our relationship with countries like Turkey, which has wanted to be part of the European project for decades.

If Britain votes to remain, we will have endorsed a short-term fix in a referendum that won’t be held again for decades. Moreover, the next time a British Prime Minister were to ask the EU to give Britain special treatment, they would be rejected on the grounds that Britons have given their democratic endorsement. Rather than being terrified by the prospect of leaving, we should be excited by it. It is natural to huddle together in a time of crisis and to fear the unknown, but these are impulses to be fought.

I reject the stifling establishment consensus across the political parties. The EU has fulfilled its dream of preventing war between France and Germany. It now needs a new one—and so does the United Kingdom. That’s why I will vote to leave.

Now read: Twelve things you need to know about Brexit