The EU is the worlds largest trading bloc and as an institution, is unrivalled in its commitment to defending the world order under which it was first constructed. Sadly, at least for Europhiles (a term I despise even more than Eurosceptic), that world no longer exists.
When the prospect of an EU referendum was first floated publicly by David Cameron, I was quite firmly on the side of Leave. I can talk about the EU’s shortcomings for hours.
However, I was pushed reluctantly to the side of remain by the somewhat veiled intentions of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir John Redwood, Owen Patterson, and the rest of the ‘hard-Brexit’ gang because I knew that a Tory-led Brexit would be a disaster for working-class people in this country, the likes of which we have never seen before.
All of which brings me to my main point: there are two competing visions of Brexit on offer right now — the 2016 referendum result means we are leaving — so why are neither of these options being argued for openly?
The first plan is that of the Brexit-backing Conservatives, supported by UKIP, Donald Trump, and the Russian Oligarchy, to name but a few. In this vision of the future, Britain remains competitive with the EU by lowering its regulations. It’s not complicated, if we are not in a customs union and are not perfectly aligned, in terms of regulation, with the single market, our companies that trade in Europe will find that external tariffs and other barriers to trade will make them uncompetitive with their corporate rivals. The only way to level the playing field here is to scale back on health & hygiene, environmental, and workers safety regulations in order to save money in production and ultimately, be able to produce goods or provide services at a reduced cost, thereby negating the penalties for being outside of the economic bloc.
There is no way around this. Once we are outside of the EU, in order to attract investment the Tories will lower taxes on businesses and the wealthiest among us, undermining twenty-five years of a cross-party, cross-continental effort to hold the powerful to account and force them to pay their fair share. When Brexiteers like those mentioned above, hail the benefits of free-trade agreements with the rest of the world, they purposefully omit two key pieces of information. Firstly, and in my opinion, most importantly, the government’s own analysis of the benefits of signing free-trade agreements with the rest of the world suggest that it would amount to a measly 0.2% of GDP — compare that to a predicted loss of 8% over the next fifteen years if we were to leave without a deal. Yes, that 0.2% would potentially increase over time as our trade balance adjusted and we began to trade more with the rest of the world and less with the EU, but it would take a generation and radical change in the structure of our economy before we began to see the net benefits of this.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly to the people who voted for Brexit, is that we have one major bargaining chip in our negotiations with the rest of the world. One thing, that countries from China to India to Brazil want, and that is to send more people to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom. As someone who believes, without doubt, that higher levels of immigration into this country are going to be necessary over the next thirty, forty, and fifty years if we wish to maintain our current standard of living — which we should be working to improve — I am more than happy for us to invite more people to come here from other countries. But, every single Brexit-voter I have explained this to either does not believe me or becomes visibly angry at the idea that they had traded white, eastern-European, English speaking migrants for brown, ‘foreign-speaking’ (a phrase lifted straight from the lips of a Brexit-voter in my hometown) migrants from across the world. That is not an acceptable outcome for the majority of people who voted for Brexit. That is the ERG’s (a group of far-right Tory backbenchers) plan to make Brexit a success and the people working tirelessly to deliver that kind of Brexit should be honest about it.
But, that, thank the lord, is not the only way to make Brexit a ‘success’. Over the last two years, there has been a concerted effort by the political-right to hijack Brexit and now, for the first time since the referendum result, the idea of a Lexit — that is, a left-wing exit from the European Union — is starting to gain momentum.
This was the kind of Brexit I envisaged back in 2015. I was certain that we could sell the idea of leaving the European Union to liberate ourselves and our economy, to better protect and invest in the future of our country, to a majority of the public. I believe that the result of the referendum proved me right. The problem is that no one with a big enough platform made that case during the referendum. In a bizarre turn of events, the political-left became the defenders of the neo-liberal economic consensus that the European Union was founded on. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, two of British socialism’s most staunch Eurosceptics, actually campaigned to remain… Never before have I been so disenfranchised by politicians with whom I agree so much.
I was pleased then, unsurprisingly, when three months after the referendum, Labour came out firmly in support of a customs union, close alignment with the single market, and robust and unwavering guarantees to protect our health & hygiene, environmental, and workers safety standards. This is the alternative plan to make Brexit a ‘success’.
In this vision of our future, Britain would leave the political unions of Europe but remain as economically close as possible. We would take advantage of our new found sovereignty by implementing sweeping reforms that would see us take back the vital industries that Conservatives stole from the people and sold to their friends. We would invest in the industries that are struggling in the modern age and more crucially, invest even heavier in the industries of the future. We would actively spread London’s wealth across the country and in the end, we would all be richer for it. I appreciate that there is a growing chorus of European constitutional experts who argue that much of this could be achieved as a member of the EU. I am by no means an expert in European law, but I humbly disagree with them. Merkel, master of compromise, is on her way out and Macron is setting much of the EU’s agenda these days. The direction in which they are heading (ever closer union) is very different to the two paths currently at Britains feet and they would not abide by one of their largest members so flagrantly breaking their most fundamental rules. It would undermine the integrity of the EU in a way that I would not encourage. If we believe this is the way to transform our country, then we must leave.
And there we have it, our two competing visions of the future. The choice couldn’t be starker or simpler. On the one hand, market-driven socialism and a country governed by principles of freedom and fairness, or on the other, unfettered free-market capitalism and a race to the regulatory bottom. The public must make an informed decision on this because at the end of either of these two Brexit paths, is a world very different from the one we know now. The people will not forgive those who pushed them into a future they did not want.