"Who will speak for England?" the Daily Mail asked, last Thursday, as they tore into Cameron's negotiated deal with the European Union. The announcement of this framework acts as a firing pistol for the race to secure Britain's place either in or out of the EU and has triggered a national debate about the merits of Brexit.
Certainly the EU is not perfect; the way Greece has been treated over the last few years has led me to firmly consider a vote to leave. However one issue is not enough for me to make up my mind. The arguments for both staying and leaving are complex, and reflect the politics of the person arguing. We have heard a lot from Nigel Farage, Douglas Carswell and Chris Grayling about the horrors of the EU, but in the midst of all this anti-immigration table thumping it has been largely overlooked that there is a solidly left wing case for leaving the EU.
On some level I feel obliged to support the EU just to spite the people I really hate - namely UKIP. Personally, I do quite well out of the EU. I live in London, which is awash with European cash, and no one loves the European city break more than me. However, I recognise that other people might not benefit quite so much from EU membership and I want to vote in the interests of people who are not as well off as I am, rather than my own.
On that note, what follows is the left wing case for Brexit. At some point in the near future the left wing case for staying in the EU will follow.
The first major point is that most people do not know what the EU is for or what it does. Aside from a few nebulous points about bringing Europe together, what does the EU actually do? The EU does has a profound affect on all our lives, mainly it provides the regulatory framework that Europe wide businesses operate under. These large companies employ a significant proportion of the British workforce and heavily contribute to our GDP. However the British voter is so disconnected from the decision making process behind this regulatory framework that we cannot have much of a say in how the EU is run.
Due to this, the EU is less accountable than our own national governments. Most people do not have a good understand of the issues and factions within the EU, which makes it very hard to have an informed opinion during European elections. I am very interested in politics, and even I cannot name the main centre left and centre right blocs within the MEPs.
I find it deeply worrying how disconnected we are from the debates in Brussels, which fundamentally limits the British voter's ability to have a say in how the EU is run. For this reason I would prefer decisions to be made closer to home, so that more people can participate in and feel affected by politics. This opinion extends to a belief that more power should be moved from Westminster to town halls around the country.
The regulatory framework that the EU provides exists to make it easier for multinational companies, mainly banks, to operate in the single European market. It grew out of the European Coal and Steel Community and has always sought to make Europe richer by providing a more stimulating environment for business. Whether intentionally or not, it mainly serves the interests of large financial companies and companies wanting cheap labour to drive down the cost of production.
TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) deal is good example of this. It is a proposed agreement between the EU and the USA, which will erode national government’s powers to regulate businesses. This is a clear example of the EU putting the needs of multinational corporations above its citizens. If we don’t want to be a part of TTIP then we need to leave.
Another example is the austerity imposed by the European Central bank on poorer EU nations. This has damaged the provision of social security, led to redundancies and wage cuts, depressed their struggling economies and resulted in huge privatisations in many countries. I do not want to be part of an EU that strips welfare and removes the provisions of public services from its poorer citizens.
Should a genuinely left wing government be elected in the UK, then the EU’s regulatory framework will make it harder for said government to implement its policies. Policies such as financial sector reform or higher progressive taxes on the wealthy will be difficult to implement in the single market of Europe, where it is easy for companies or individuals to move overseas where circumstances are more favourable. If the left wants to achieve socialism in Britain then we need to leave the EU and be fully in control of our own destiny.
Iceland is a shining example of how we should have dealt with the 2008 financial crisis. They allowed a few large banks to go bust, implemented legal reforms on the surviving banks and jailed bankers who were found to have broken the law. Iceland is also outside the EU and probably could not have done any of this if they weren’t. There are advantages to not having a seat at the table when the table is on fire.
As much as I love being able to interrail from country to country on my British passport, the reality of membership is not so rosey for low paid workers. Open borders and free movement of labour has driven down wages of low skilled workers, while allowing British firms to move jobs overseas where labour costs are less. Jobs in trades or construction that used to be well paid are now minimum wage jobs because of the income eroding power of the unregulated EU labour market.
This could be prevented if the government provided more protection to workers and invested in training for the low skilled. However this Tory government has clearly put the needs of large companies, which save money from the supply of cheap low skilled labour, above the well-being of these workers themselves. The only option to protect low skilled workers is to vote to leave the EU.
The case for voting to leave the EU goes beyond the anti-immigration arguments of UKIP and eurosceptic Tories. There are strong left wing arguments for leaving the EU, as the EU is more interested in helping businesses than helping ordinary people. If we want to use government to challenge the power of the financial sector and to help the poorest members of society, then it will be necessary to leave.
If you are interested in reading the left wing case for staying in the EU then it can be found here.