The People’s Vote: Why A Second Referendum Won’t Solve our Problems

Has the Remain campaign and argument really moved on at all? The Stronger In campaign was led from Downing Street and called Britain Stronger in Europe. Its Press Chief was James McGrory, who after the referendum went onto lead Open Britain, the group which now runs the People’s Vote campaign as well as many ‘youth movements’, such as Our Future Our Choice. This is what is known as Astroturfing, which is when an organisation presents a campaign as being organised by members of the public when it is in fact funded and operated by more established interests. Astroturf is not real grass at all, and Pro-EU activism in 2018 is certainly no real grassroots movement either.

Open Britain is not just the spiritual successor to Stronger In, it is merely a rebranding. It has not moved on from staging the debate as between two factions of the right, the ‘crazy’ Brexiteers with pie-in-the-sky hopes for future free trade agreements against the sensible, supposedly economically stable (2008 had been forgotten quickly), neoliberal establishment. Despite outspending Leave , it still lost to the ‘crazy’ Brexiteers.

Two years on, gone are the establishment stylings, in are the astroturf campaigns. This self-described “populist insurgency” seems to be everywhere. “For Our Future’s Sake” for example often seen all over the media. All it seems to offer a hatred of the elderly, and the argument that the debate can be won now that some of the other sides are dead.

Another tiny issue is whenever you look at the people backing these campaigns it is the same old establishment faces. The likes of Tony Blair, Michael Heseltine, Nick Clegg, and Deborah Meaden are not ordinary people themselves, nor the champions of ordinary people, or even liked by ordinary people at all. Not to mention the frequent wheeling-out of Alastair Campbell to tell the public that they have been misled and now the country is on course for a national disaster. The jokes write themselves.

For this reason alone, I’d think Remain would lose a second referendum anyway. They have learned nothing. They still talk in general terms about the economy as though it benefits everyone in the exact same way. This couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s actually a key reason people voted for Brexit. As Grace Blakeley recently tweeted:

“Especially when experts are giving warnings about GDP growth without realising that growth has been decoupled from living standards in many places for years.”

“Reminded of the response to such an economist at an event in Newcastle: ‘that’s your bloody GDP, not mine’”. 

They have shockingly little to say about what vision they have for the UK inside Europe, how would Leavers feel in control, or how could the EU be reformed.

Furthermore, if the left is seen to be complicit or even pushing to overturn a huge democratic mandate, it will open the door to a resurgent hard right. The Leave vote was based on a feeling of a lack of power and voice, so to tell normal people, who are now finally feeling as though their voice is being heard, that they are wrong and must vote again and ‘get it right this time’ is incredibly dangerous. This is the sad and very likely outcome of a second referendum: a second Leave vote, and a Labour Party utterly unpalatable to Leave voters, just as so many of the Social Democratic parties on the continent have become to their traditional bases.

 

And here is the kicker: this is all based on the false pretence that the EU is a socialist organisation that socialists should want to be part of.

I often hear friends and comrades from different left-wing traditions argue along the lines that only remaining in the EU is compatible with our internationalist values. But this is to mistake the EU’s intergovernmental politics with genuine internationalism. The EU consistently undermines genuine international solidarity within its own borders, creating a northern core and a southern periphery with disastrous consequences for the periphery. Its approach to the migration of Africans and Asians across its borders is about as far from internationalism as you could get. I am sad to report that this is not an accident. Rather, this is by design.

I have written previously about how the EU will stop us implementing our programme, I shall not go into too much detail here other than to point out that on top of Greece and Portugal, we have seen how the EU has treated Italy when a sovereign democratically elected state tried to implement a programme outside of the neoliberal mainstream. In slapping Italy down, the commission demonstrated and made an example of how it would treat a Labour government. We must proceed with extreme vigilance in this regard.

Once we begin to look at the EU critically, we quickly find that the main obstacle to genuine internationalism is not the British nation state, but the counterfeit of internationalism that is liberal supranationalism, and it’s chief institution: the EU. Far from for the many, this is an undemocratic economic union rigged in favour of the few.

However, even if this is all true, how is a British nation state a gain to an internationalist socialist? Well, as any Remainer will tell you, leaving the EU will diminish Britain’s global influence. Frankly, this is why true internationalists will embrace Brexit! Surely the curtailment of a British state which has committed such moral atrocities around the world should be welcomed. The disruptive effect of British capital on the developing countries of Europe and further afield will be stymied. Empire is long gone and no Tory fantasy will bring it back.

I’ll finish with this: the dying call of each and every remain argument goes as such: “As socialists, we should push for change and reform within the EU where it can make a real difference at a global level.” This is a fantasy akin to that of the Tory neo-colonialists. Social Democratic parties are being decimated across Europe in favour of far-right authoritarianism. Our fight to convince the people of the United Kingdom is a huge challenge in itself, so why are we pretending we can reform Europe as a whole? After all, so much of the European bureaucratic apparatus is controlled by Heads of State and their appointees. There is not yet a single real socialist amongst them.

Furthermore, we must only look again to Greece. In 2015, when it became obvious that the Greek government wasn’t willing to leave either the Union or the Eurozone, the EU imposed a third bailout plan, a brutal prescription of austerity that has cost countless lives whilst compounding the country’s economic catastrophe. It was an act that can only be described as one of economic imperialism. Even if you believe the EU is capable of reform, which I do not because its founding principles are fundamentally neoliberal, Greece teaches us that for a socialist state to stand up to the EU, it must be willing to walk away. A People’s Vote, whether with a Leave or Remain outcome, would only hinder our ability to reform the EU.

In summary, Remain would lose a People’s Vote, rally the far right, split the left, and hinder rather than help our chances of reforming the EU. It must not come to pass. It must be rejected by all good socialists.

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