Many on the left are asking how they can argue for support of Britain’s EU membership. Here are some thoughts about why the left should not flirt with ‘Lexit'.
The EU has brought peaceful cooperation to countries that have been enemies for centuries. It assured democracy and social progress for working people living under former right-wing dictatorships in southern Europe and former communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe.
The EU single market is a huge economic benefit. Manufacturing jobs in the UK depend on companies’ access to that single market. Millions of British people have taken up the right to live in other EU countries whether to retire in sunnier climes, study in another language (with the hugely popular Erasmus programme) or to work. Important social rights, such as paid holidays, parental leave and equality legislation come from the EU. Why give up all that?
Because today’s EU is dominated by conservative and right-wing Governments? The UK has exactly the same problem. No one calls for Labour-dominated regions like the North-East to declare independence because they could be more socialist on their own. So why should the UK leave the EU? With the recent Tory election victory the prospects for a more progressive society in the UK outside the EU is a delusion. Just like it was in the 1980s under Thatcher.
Indeed those celebrating the intense difficulties in Europe and hoping to see the end of European Union and all it has brought are the parties most opposed to social progress in Europe, namely the extreme right wing in Europe and UKIP in UK. Calling for withdrawal plays directly into their hands and reinforces their appalling social and political agenda.
Why not seize the opportunity to improve the lot of a continent of working people through European cooperation, institutions, law and policy rather than just aiming to ameliorate the condition of British people by implementing our own programme nationally?
In addition, there are a range of international issues which the British Government would be powerless to tackle on its own such as ending roaming charges; challenging market domination by companies such as Microsoft and Google; world trade rules; global climate negotiations; net neutrality; corporate reporting; conflict minerals; safe medicines, food and chemicals; regulating tobacco, banning the use hormones in farming and banning the use of GMOs. It is only by being part of a globally important market of over 500 million citizens – with political institutions that set social and environmental rules – that Britain can influence these sorts of vital issues.
Just as we need to argue for a progressive alternative in the UK, so we need to make the case for a more progressive Europe. As things get tough for citizens throughout Europe, why should British progressives turn their back on the common struggle?
Engage with progressives across the EU – don’t retreat into a little English corner. Argue against Cameron‘s ‘renegotiation’ undermining workers’ rights, not against the EU!