Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The left and the EU referendum debate by Nick Davies

At the Welsh Labour Grassroots meeting on 5 March, there was a discussion on the stance socialists in Wales should adopt towards the EU referendum and the EU in general. A summary of that discussion is set out below, the purpose of which is to stimulate and develop future discussion. 

One view was that the EU is fundamentally pro-capitalist and pro-privatisation of public services. It is also undemocratic to the extent that it is incapable of reform. We should therefore vote to leave, it was argued, yet there is no progressive 'leave’ campaign in existence. The campaigns by UKIP and the Tory right are seeking to make the referendum about immigration, as a result of which the referendum campaign will be a carnival of reaction.

Other comrades had therefore concluded that, while the EU is indeed pro-capitalist, pro-privatisation, pro-austerity and anti-democratic, we should vote to stay in because of the possibility of positive change and because the UK labour movement would not be strengthened, and would very possibly be weakened, by ‘Brexit’.

There was general agreement with the critique of the EU as it currently exists and some comrades made particular reference to the additional threat to public services, and the ability of elected government to act, presented by TTIP.

It was pointed out that there are environmental directives and workplace regulations which emanate from the EU and which are beneficial but, given TTIP in particular, it is difficult to know whether to vote to leave or remain.

Given the predisposition of the Tory government towards free markets and deregulation, however, it was also argued that TTIP (or something very like it) would be a danger whether the UK is 'in' or 'out'. Leaving the EU would not, in itself, be an escape from the kind of threats presented by TTIP.

The EU has come a long way from noble ideals of its foundation and, under the impact of unpopular austerity policies and migration issues, it could implode. Whatever the original social-democratic/christian-democratic consensus underlying the original union, austerity is now built into the project, as reinforced by a succession of treaties.

Therefore, even if the left should back the campaign to stay 'in', it needs also to call for the tearing up of the treaties of Brussels, Lisbon, Nice, Maastricht, and Rome etc.

The Labour leadership is therefore missing a trick, it was argued, by being insufficiently active on the EU issue and the referendum and failing to put pressure on Cameron but at least Labour is not campaigning side by side with Cameron, a lesson learned from the referendum campaign in Scotland. The situation in the Tory party and the splits in British capitalism on the issue are such that it is cannot be ruled out that the referendum will not take place.

Finally, it was observed that although there was broad agreement within WLG on the undemocratic, pro-capitalist, free market nature of the EU, there was much less agreement, and a lot of uncertainty, was whether there should be a vote to leave or  remain, given the reactionary nature of much of the 'leave' campaign, the benefits that have accrued to Wales as a result of EU membership, the likelihood, or otherwise, of success in changing the culture and structure of the EU and how this could be brought about. For many, the decision will be one of tactics rather than principle.

Further contributions to this debate are strongly encouraged.


  1. If Britain leaves the EU it will be out of the frying pan and into the fire. Social Europe is no more but we can all campaign for it to return with Britain in the EU. SME's suffer from red tape from Brussels. There are too many regulations as EU law makes anything not covered by law illegal whereas in the UK it is the opposite. The Lisbon Treaty needs to be torn up in particular.

  2. The EU is becoming more capitalist because of pressure from huge multi national corporations, mostly US based, lobbying it over the governments of member states. Countries will be affected by TTIP whether in the EU or not.

  3. Thanks Nicely balanced summary that shows how hard it is to reach a decision about this. If people who have tried to understand it find it so hard to reach a consensus view, this indicates that the public will just vote on instinct.

  4. Although I reside in the IN camp, there is still a chance I may vote OUT. Up until the way Greece was treated last year, for as long as I can remember I had always been a pro European. The totally undemocratic way the ECB treated Greece pushed me for a short time into the OUT camp and it is only because I have looked into the pros and cons in light of the forthcoming referendum that I have returned to IN. It is however far from clear cut. There are two main reasons I have for remaining IN...1. the fear that tariffs placed on trade, post leaving, would cause economic damage resulting in job losses and lowering living standards and...2. The fear of a Tory government, free of EU laws and regulations, wreaking havoc in our society well into the next decade. Isn't it sad that these are purely negative reasons to want to stay IN? But there you have it - there appears to be no strong positive reason to remain and none to leave either! All it'll take to change my mind is for a clear picture to emerge is that leaving won't make much economic difference to remaining in and/or a realistic chance of a Corbyn led Labour government. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic of both those outcomes unfolding. So, as things stand, I'm effectively voting for the lesser of two evils, for the better the devil we know!

  5. Hi...I am Unknown, above. Not sure why my name didn't appear and I am unsure whether it will for this post either. Regards, Andrew Gilpin