Ann Pettifor

Why the Left Must Lead Britain Away From Brexit


This was published on the PRIME site on the 25th February, 2018.

Britain is led today by deeply divided political parties. Our leaders have many policies, but no inspiring vision for Britain’s future – either within, or outside the EU. As President Roosevelt once famously said: “where there is no vision, the people perish”.

The peoples of the European Union do have a vision – the pursuit of peace and stability across the continent on the basis of European values (including the maintenance of welfare states) and unity. It is a commitment upheld despite immense suffering by, for example, the Greek people. It is a commitment rooted in the even larger costs of economic failure in the 1920s and 1930s; and in the uncountable human costs of the Second World War – a war still fresh in the memories of many Europeans.

However, where EU politicians and their peoples aimed at convergence, financial vultures have forced divergence. Where Europeans painstakingly built inter-governmental collaboration based on democratic governance and moderation, private wealth’s parasitic behaviour has fuelled anti-democratic fanaticism and bigotry.

Britain’s Left are wrong to abandon that vision of a peaceful and stable Europe; of inter-governmental collaboration based on democratic governance. Above all, the Left is wrong to cede power to private wealth and its determination to force divergence through the marketisation of society by self-adjusting and self-regulating markets; and to thereby destroy the European vision of unity, peace and stability based on welfare states.

Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg  and Liam Fox, aided by the DUP, are leading the British people away from collaboration with European neighbours, and into a condition of abject subordination to American capital and right wing Republicanism.

The Lexiters of the Labour Party are colluding, unconsciously, in that strategy.

The Lexiters’ supposedly left wing strategy in favour of Brexit carries huge risks. First, many assume that the Left will benefit from Brexit. That may be wishful thinking. Despite the weakness of the Prime Minister and the absolute shambles that is the British cabinet, the Conservative vote is holding up. That signals danger. For if the Tories were to win the next General Election they would have five years in which to lock Britain out of Europe, and into harmful, long-lasting trade agreements. They would be given five years in which to complete their planned demolition of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS. To turn Britain into a vassal of the United States.

That would be a catastrophic outcome, and no one on the Left should be party to it.

If a Labour government were to win after Britain had exited the EU, the Lexiters’ risky strategy would not be counter-balanced by advantages. While Britain will get back some freedom with regard to e.g. State Aid, a Labour government would almost certainly face political isolation – from its European partners across the North Sea, and from Trumpism across the Atlantic.

Unless the Labour movement were to help build and strengthen Left forces in Europe, the future looks bleak for any future Labour government. What chance then of implementing ‘socialism in one country’ – an alternative economic strategy? How could a Left-wing Labour government single-handedly challenge the globalisation of domestic markets, or play a key role in building peace around the world, while isolated and weak?

To fulfil the Left’s own ambitions, to challenge the utopianism of globalisation, there is an urgent need to reach out and rebuild social democratic alliances with European partners.

To Remain.

There are signs (e.g. in Germany) that social democratic parties are waking up from their long sojourn in the house of ordoliberalism, and are newly alive to the deep structural flaws of the project that is globalisation. A project that both New Labour and many European Social Democratic parties signed up to, and for which complicity they have paid a heavy political price. Many Europeans look to the newly revitalised British Labour movement for leadership out of the deregulated, heavily indebted, low-paid, hugely unequal and insecure economic conditions suffered by millions. Conditions that have allowed those responsible for catastrophic economic failure to emerge triumphant after the 2007-9 Global Financial Crisis.

No doubt there are big challenges to face if the EU Treaties that embed ordoliberal policies are to be amended. But thanks to John Major and Gordon Brown, Britain is exempt from the excessive deficit rules, and would not adopt the Euro  – under current arrangements. In other words, we would continue to benefit from these opt-outs, but only if we remained within the EU,

We clearly need longer to work through all these arguments, to correct the falsifications of Conservative ministers, and to mobilise the British people behind a more conciliatory and progressive relationship with European partners.

We need more time to present the British people with a vision of the future that reverses the marketization and monetisation of all aspects of life; that is socially just and ecologically secure; and that is based on upholding peace and solidarity with our neighbours.

That means a longer transitional period within the European Union is needed. A longer transition outside the EU would mean Britain never gets back on the same terms as we enjoy today.

By far the best strategy for the Labour leadership at this stage would be to request an extension to the Article 50 period – from the EU.

And if Parliament is not satisfied with the deal negotiated by the Tories and DUP, then Labour should follow John McDonnell’s lead, and give the British people a final say, via a referendum on the Brexit decision. It is only right to give young people that will face the future we create, a vision of a hopeful, peaceful and prosperous future, and a path towards that future.  They deserve the right to endorse or oppose the Brexit deal.

According to ICM/Guardian poll in January, there is only one English region, Somerset, whose voters (by the narrowest of majorities) think that the British people should not have a chance to take a final decision. Every social class voted in favour of the proposition that the British people should have a choice – as did every age group.  The 65s and over were the exception. Labour voters are overwhelmingly in favour of the public having a chance to take a final decision: by 63% – 19%. 29% of Tories agree and 55% of Tory Remainers want another referendum.

The British people are calling out for progressive leadership.  Labour could lead the nation out of the chaos created by UKIP and the far Right of the Tory party. But only if Labour’s Lexiters face up to the risks they are taking with both their own party, and the nation’s future.




1 thought on “Why the Left Must Lead Britain Away From Brexit”

  1. I’m a Remainer on the left because I feared voting to Leave could restart the debt-deflation recession. This may still happen when Brexit finally occurs. Even reducing growth from voting to leave would be bad for getting our politics onto the right track again in the aftermath of the Great Recession, could increase the chance of Scottish independence, and so on.

    This article though seems to me a textbook example of a poor Remain argument. Plenty of wishful thinking and exaggeration about the EU. No, the EU is unrelated to peace; the reason France and Germany can’t have a war again is that the atomic bomb was invented. And NATO was signed before the Treaty of Rome. If peacemaking was so important to EU states they should be pursuing it with Russia instead of the brinkmanship we saw over Ukraine and pursuing Common Foreign and Security Policy with each other when we already have NATO and don’t need to duplicate it. Since this contributed to Russia conquering Ukraine, I don’t see why you think the EU helps “unity, peace, stability”. A Brexit Labour govt would indeed help “peace around the world” by getting out of that, and it is the continentals who would be isolating themselves.

    The Tories can privatise the NHS inside or outside the EU. Labour can quit any trade deals the Tories manage to negotiate (in only five years?).

    Likewise for welfare states you contradict yourself. Why when you admit the continental social democrats are not social democrats do you think the “vision” somehow remains?

    State aid is a joke of a reason for leaving the EU of course, but if we quit the single market, perhaps with the EEA as a transitional phase (David Owen makes a good argument that we’d still legally be a party in the EEA after leaving the EU), we can control our balance of payments just as the anti-marketeers in the 70s warned us of the need for. That’ll make it easier to run the economy at full employment.

    We will also get immigration control, which is a political necessity, since polling for years has shown few people think that mass immigration is a net benefit to the economy and the vast majority want a reduction. I don’t see why the left should commit electoral suicide to preserve a given level of mass immigration when the Tories can get back in (in 2022?) by promising to cut it, then enacting the rest of their agenda. Yes, the rightwing rags keep those fears stoked, but we compromise on plenty of other policies because of their power and it’s not xenophobic/racist to control immigration for economic reasons anyway. Fortunately Remainers have realised this and their opinion after the vote is that immigration must be reduced. Overall 75% of people wanted it reduced and that was in 2015. Talk of peace in Europe and other purple prose doesn’t get around that.

    Please reconsider. We can have a long transitional period to minimise the dampening of investment due to uncertainty, we will rebuild that certainty and if Corbyn is smart he will cut immigration as much as May so that workers don’t vote Tory because they worry about their wages. Middle-class people currently worrying about their wealth being harmed by Brexit can be expected to “take one for the team” like working people for the last fifteen years. Cameron showed the continentals won’t renegotiate anything so we have no role to play in revitalising social democracy in Europe except by being a good example on the outside.

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