The EU referendum draws tantalizingly closer. Support for both staying and leaving hangs very much in the balance. One remarkable aspect of the debate is how people are becoming segregated, largely based on their political ideology. A key example is left-wing support for remaining. In fact, the two are disproportionately linked. A left-wing Eurosceptic is now somewhat of a rarity, buried amidst a sea of their ideological allies who staunchly sing the praises of the union. Both the Labour party and the Green party, along with several trade union leaders, have pledged their allegiance to remaining.
And support for Britain staying is seen as progressive and righteous among the left. Opposing it can lead to an individual being sneered at, and dismissed as a ‘little Englander’ or as uneducated. Only a traditional Conservative or a UKIPer would oppose the EU, many assume. These are the typical associations I’ve observed. Even the poster boy of the British left – Owen Jones – recently attributed xenophobia and prejudice to the Brexit movement; largely because of fears it has over Turkey joining the EU. No wonder many on the left would see it as unholy to want to leave.
I was admittedly a left-wing Europhile in the past. This has gifted me with an insight into the mindset behind wanting to stay. For the EU seemingly epitomizes internationalism, unity and pluralism. It personifies pan-Europeanism, and is the ultimate goal of a progressive world. This narrative is contagious, and quickly latches on to many other left-wingers.
Despite this fanciful image, many hidden realities contradict this narrative laid out about the European Union. Many of these less-talked about factors profoundly undermine left-wing values. The significant corporate influence often goes unnoticed. The EU is driven by multinational corporatism, and acts as a safe-haven unfettered neo-liberalism. The majority of the left support nationalising the railways, without realising that to do so would involve not only pushing through European commission rail directive 91/440/EEC, but potentially the proposed Fourth Railway Package too. Though many are aware of the potential perils of TTIP and its hidden contracts, the impending prospect of it becoming implemented the EU is almost forgotten.
Even more ironic is that many of these Bremainers, when justifying their opinion, actually end up citing positive comments about the EU made by big business figures and bankers, whom they would otherwise criticize. These elite figures in question are of course yearning for Britain to remain — for obvious reasons.
Because of its neo-liberal nature, any governing left-wing party among the EU nations would have to compromise on its own principals. No better example of this is Greece. Last year, the Greek public elected the left-wing, anti-austerity Syriza party – to deal with the nation’s financial meltdown, and to oppose austerity measures pushed forward by Eurozone creditors in bailout deals. Yet the creditors did not back down. Austerity measures were continuously forced onto the nation. The Greek people have therefore been plunged into further turmoil by the EU.
Wealth inequality has seen a stark increase in EU states; in a consistent fashion since the 1970s. A typical case of the ‘rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer’ occurs in OECD countries; and EU member states especially have undergone noticeable changes – according to one report on inequality within these countries. The EU has done little to prevent poverty too; with one report by Oxfam report detailing the rise of 7.5 million living in poverty in 2009, to 50 million in 2013 across Europe.
Yes, on face value, the EU may appear to provide a fair, prosperous and cosmopolitan structure across Europe. In reality, it undermines just that. Some left-wingers have seen through it — from Tony Benn’s pointing out the undemocratic evolution of the European project, to Jeremy Corbyn’s past criticism of the “huge free-market Europe“, despite now being silenced by his overwhelmingly pro-EU party.
Yet these limited voices aren’t sufficient enough to tackle the dire issues within the European Union. The left needs awareness on how the EU jeopardizes democracy; and is almost too rigid to be reformed. If ‘Brexit’ happened, we could still secure positives that come from EU membership, whilst banishing the undemocratic aspects. We can retain trade with our neighbours (being the fifth largest economy in the world); we can consolidate internationalism; and we can certainly still diplomatically engage with one another. Given that we have assembled these links until now, we can still retain them. We do not need to remain constricted within a monolithic organisation that undermines justice, good values, and the interests of the wider public.