Although the main body of left-wing thought in the UK is opposed to the idea of Britain leaving the European Union, there are certainly those who look at the events in Greece last year, and the type of governance dominating Brussels and feel an urge to vote leave. Throw in the approaching EU-US Transatlantic trade and investment partnership, or TTIP, and it seems as though there exists a clear, left-wing case for Brexit.
There are, however, some facts that should not be overlooked by progressive voters. The UK has over recent decades been one the central drivers of financial deregulation in the EU. Indeed, while this is sometimes ignored by progressive commentators, it is, in fact, a fundamental tenet of the Conservative-led Leave campaign. The Framework of the EU, in their eyes, burdens UK businesses with ‘red tape,’ hampering their global competitiveness, particularly in the United States. This is an excellent point from which to discuss the TTIP. The now-infamous trade agreement dealing with services exports, safety and environmental standards and such, is being put forward by some as a clear reason to vote Leave. One of the most prominent aspects of the deal, the extension to the EU of the practice of ISDS, or Investor-State Dispute Settlements, is no doubt a valid cause for concern. Let’s not forget, however, the choice before voters are not whether or not they support the basic logic of Corporate Personhood – rather it is whether to remain within the 28-state union. The Conservative Government is a staunch supporter of the TTIP. The Prime Minister has signalled that any new UK-US trade agreements would be modelled on the TTIP, which would almost certainly include the ISDS that is already in place across the world.
A full exit, with no preferential access to the European Common Market, would mean that the UK’s commercial relationship with Europe would be governed by the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Although the exact impacts of this change are hard to predict, access to some European Markets, especially those vital to UK agricultural exports, could be curtailed. Even a partial exit, if achieved, would mean the continuation of some the more onerous rules which the Out campaign rail against, and it would also mean far less leverage in Brussels. You may have heard rhetoric along the lines of;
“Every British Prime Minister has tried and failed to reform the EU.”
While this is arguably true, it begs the question ‘what changes do you wish had been achieved?’ Some talk in vague terms about making the EU less conducive to the immediate interests of the major Multinational Corporations, or about it allowing inequality to increase ever further. They might be surprised to learn that the UK is one of the, if not the single most unequal country in the EU. It has some of the laxest financial regulation in the world, and the City of London is the EU’s premier location for Tax-evasion, according to British tax expert Richard Murphy.
Costly EU regulations are allegedly damaging UK small businesses. According to OpenEurope, the three most expensive EU regulations are as follows: The UK renewable energy strategy, which has broad public support; The Capital Requirements Directive IV, which is part of the global initiative raise Commercial Bank Capital Ratios following the near-collapse of the Global financial system in 2008; and the working time directive, which ensures a employers provide a break after 6 hours work and 4 weeks paid annual leave.
Another common line of attack is that Britain contributes £18bn per year to Brussels. In reality, the UK’s net contribution is around £8bn, spent mainly spent on farming subsidies. This means that the average UK citizen contributes less than 40 pence per day, according to John McCormick, professor of EU politics at Indiana University. I haven’t yet heard anyone try to make the argument that 40 pence are more than the average person saves on the lower prices generated by the competition in the EU trading bloc.
The final and perhaps most significant reason given to vote Leave is the now almost mythical ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’. This is a definite appeal to democratic, progressive values. EU policies are decided by the elected European Parliment and the Council of the EU. The European Parliment is made up of MEPs. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, was on the EU Parliament’s Fisheries Committee for three years, and attended only one of the 42 meetings, according to the Financial Times. The European Council is made up of elected national Government ministers. The European Commission is an influential body, and does, of course, contain unelected ‘bureaucrats’, but it does not have the ultimate decision-making power. This makes the unelected aspect of the EU little different to that of Whitehall, which contains many unelected ‘bureaucrats’. All of these institutions are accountable to the European Court of Justice. The notion that there exists an unelected government in Brussels with independent powers is a widespread myth.
There is an abundance of valid criticisms of the EU. The post-2010 devotion to long-discredited pre-depression economic logic, the enormous amount of Corporate Lobbying that takes place in Brussels, second only to Washington, and the lack of any effective, coordinated response to the Migration Crisis, all call into question the current state of the EU. A proper response to this from the Left should not be an attempt to retreat to the nation state. The only real winners from Britain leaving the EU would be the new European far right.