Hey people i'll be on Channel 4 tonight debating the EU referendum with Paxman and all the rest... here are my basic thoughts ahead of time...
Some thoughts on the EU
Before I get into my own opinions on the subject I would first like to note the astoundingly banal and generally poor standard of debate from both sides in this campaign. Ranging from complete lies and scaremongering to disregard for experts and their pesky little ‘facts’ to half truths and outright racism and in the past few days some from both sides attempting to marshal the murder of Jo Cox by a right wing terrorist (of course our ‘free’ - read Murdoch - press refuses to call him that) to support their respective positions before her body is even cold in the ground. Really generally gutter stuff. When did we become this anti-intellectual, this unconcerned with knowing actual facts and this easily duped by a political class who will almost certainly still be rich a powerful on June the 24th either way? Or were we always made of such stuff?
I also think the public should be deeply suspicious as to why we are being asked our opinions on this particular issue when we were not asked regarding austerity, the bankers bailout or Iraq, Libya, Syria in fact clear and massive public opposition was actually actively ignored as with countless other issues.
So whilst I am pro-remain, just about and with great reservations and no illusions about what that actually means; it’s a vote for the current neo-liberal status quo –I admit that this is a coke and pepsi style choice, organic non-gmo orange juice is not an option. The British Nation State is not some anti neo-liberal social alternative to the EU; in fact the UK was the pioneer of neo-liberal economics in Europe and the city of London remains the center of European finance.
There is of course a progressive people led anti-austerity, anti corporatist, anti-imperialist case for leaving the EU and if that strain of argument were even close to an audible voice in the campaign and if our current political trajectory was not one of the most regressive in the Union I may have well been swayed to join the leavers. But as it has played out the leave lot have appealed to good old fashion fear of the ‘other’ to rile up support for their cause at a time when the ‘others’ are being left to drown in the sea in droves, sensitive humane stuff.
Some of the people of this island do have a great tradition of pro people radical internationalist politics (anti apartheid struggle, the suffragettes, chartists abolitionist movement etc.) but this tradition has always been marginalized and oft persecuted by the state and it’s certainly not that tradition that has been empowered in this ‘debate’.
And whilst I can recognize the political achievement in bringing a continent that had constantly been at war with itself to relative peace and stability the EU is indeed a corporatist, neo-colonial entity, a subject to which we will return later. However legitimate criticisms do not legitimise lies…
We have been told constantly by the leave lot that the EU is undemocratic and that poor little bullied Britain is subject to the random whims of Brussels. This is simply bullshit and anyone who can be bothered to do an internet search on the structure of and relationship between the European Council, The European Commission and the European Parliament would realize that the EU is probably as ‘democratic’ in its decision making process as the UK, with our House of Lords, our Monarchy and our City Of London Corporation – to say nothing of the oil/arms industry lobbies - arguably more so. In addition there are whole sectors of the EU arrangement that the British Nation state has opted out of in a way no other member nation has been able to such as the single currency, the Schengen no border zone and EU law on migration and asylum. The British government has also repeatedly shown its frustration with the EU rights for workers.
Which brings us on to one of the elephants in the room that no one in this mess of a debate seems to have brought up. Iraq. The Brexiters keep telling us that Britain’s ‘sovereignty’ is compromised by being in the EU (this is just legally untrue by the way) and that Britain is not free to make its own decisions blah, blah, blah. Perhaps these people were in a coma during 2003 when several EU member states, much of the UN and of course British public opinion (there was also that small matter of lack of evidence for the very thing that the war was justified upon) were all against invasion and yet the British elite and their US cronies went ahead anyway and more recently the UK Government decided to drop bombs in Syria without so much as parliamentary approval.
Does any of this sound like a small bullied little victim of the dictates of Brussels?
Not really, it sounds more like one of the most regressive states in the EU (yes us, the UK) by many factual indicators (arms exports, prison population, child poverty, basic educational attainment etc.) want to be ‘free’ to be even more regressive. ‘We’ – a certain section of Britain - want our country back. I can almost hear them singing Britannia rules the waves, bless them they think it’s 1851, when in the real world India has just put a rocket on Mars for 10% of the cost NASA can with a whole bunch of women scientists and while still technically a ‘third world’ country. The world is complex and for people brought up to believe they are great simply because they came out of their mothers womb on a particular patch of the earth it can be hard to adjust to the reality that ‘greatness’ takes actual work.
Back to the EU it is not the liberal, harmless, beacon of human rights that its most ardent supporters purport it to be. It is an imperialist behemoth that collectively imposes grossly asymmetrical trade relationships on Europe’s former colonies and it has immense collective amnesia about how it came to be so wealthy. This neo-colonial economic relationship with the Global South massively contributes to the poverty, instability, conflict (and of course resultant migration) of large parts of the globe, whilst the EU poses as the worlds shining light for spreading democratic ideals. Interestingly I have not seen any of the main voices for Brexit raise this continued economic exploitation of the South as an issue, much less as a reason for leaving. It does not seem to even be on their radar.
Back to how it seems Brexit under the current circumstances would affect everyday people. Lets just deal with the facts; most economists of many school of economic thought are against Brexit. Legal experts, (I am being told that UK law firms are already re-registering as Irish in case of Brexit) the majority of scientists all seem to think it a bad idea and I would agree with Mr. Gove that we should ignore the well paid experts if we had a great national moral conviction that we were leaving for moral, humane reasons that would genuinely better the planet, but that’s not what we have.
Even far from the political mainstream prominent activist/lawyer/reparationists like Esther Stanford-Xosei are clear that the EU for all its imperialist unity and actually partly because of that unity (Berlin 1884 anyone?) is a better structure within which national minority groups can wage their respective human and peoples (group) rights struggles than an isolated British nation state at this point in time.
So where does this leave us? With the big I world, immigration, immigration, immigration. We can try and deconstruct all of the other arguments as intellectually as we like but this debate has been so visibly dominated by this omnipotent fear of the other coming over here ‘stealing our jobs and taking our women’ that we must address it. People are to be heard claiming that 500 million people now have a British passport as if the red book was inherently superior to its Swedish, Italian and German counterparts which we as British Citizens also - by the same logic - have.
The Brexit lot is so desperate they are even claiming that being free of the EU will leave ‘us’ to look toward parts of the world Britain has long neglected like the Commonwealth! I mean really. This is post empire melancholia at its finest. Can you imagine a group of people so intellectually bereft of ideas that they expect us to believe that British multinationals are suddenly going to start dealing with the non white parts of the Commonwealth as business partners rather than as pools of cheap labor and un-processed resources the moment we leave the EU? You’ll pardon me while I laugh…
Britain and or private ‘British’ entities like the East India Company ruled most of the Commonwealth for a couple centuries before the EU existed and decided not to build any significant infrastructure and or industrial development other than in those parts of the empire where they thought white people would settle and live - under apartheid - forever more. So when I hear members of the same class, who have never show any signs of global south solidarity before invoke the well being of our homelands as a reason for leaving the EU, I am very suspicious. No in fact I just plain don’t trust a word they say.
The experts are telling us that there will be at least a decade of re-negotiating trade deals, very serious economic downturn and loss of business, the potential for the UK to adopt regressive human rights legislation (many of the right have made it clear they’d like to bring back the death penalty for instance) loss of our own free movement across Europe and all of the retired gangsters from the ends having to return from Spain but this is all worth it to regain some outdated imperial notion of sovereignty (a sovereignty which Britain still legally has) and just in case the Turks join the EU in 20 years, essentially. Of course its highly unlikely that Turkey will ever join, given that all EU member states get a veto on new members but the mere threat is enough for some people.
I can imagine some of the critics ‘from the left’ reading this thus far screaming but but but. I hear you and whilst rallying against TTIP or for workers rights or any of the other left leaning reasons that have been stated (and I acknowledge in principle) for leaving the EU sounds really cool, I think this position is naïve. Britain is already by many indices as pointed out above one of and in some cases the most Neo-Liberal state in Europe - we imprison our population at roughly double the rate the Germans do, despite them taking a much more politically progressive approach to migrants and refuges, for example. The City of London after all is the center of European finance, to think Westminster will stop governing in favor of big banks post Brexit just because the big banks are in favor of remain seems an odd conclusion to me but happy to hear more about how that would actually work?
I am going to make a very crude, imperfect but philosophically interesting (in my opinion at least) historical parallel. America. I think nobody will doubt (at least I hope) that the US is ‘the’ imperial power in the world today and that it was founded on racist exploitation, slavery and genocide. Would the south leaving America after the civil war have been positive for history? We’ll never know and whilst America is 10,000 miles south of perfect I am still glad the North won and that the racist imperial union was preserved, why? Because the realistic alternative at the time was far worse; a Southern US where race based slavery and terrorism, eugenics and serfdom for poor whites would in all likelihood have continued until today. And whilst 2016 Britain is obviously not 1850’s Alabama I think the principle remains the same, sometimes a shit version of power is better than a shittier one. I am glad the allies won World War II despite their mass murdering colonial rampages around the globe, because the Nazi’s were obviously a worse alternative at the time for example. Any how I digress
I am not mystic meg I do not have a crystal ball but I think if we leave the EU it’s the ‘hard right’ that have dominated the narrative that will be empowered and the narrow nationalism (that both leave and remain have invoked when it suits them) will again come to the fore and push us further right. This is of course conjecture, but in a land where a few million people do not think the current status quo is far right enough and with a little knowledge of British history I’d like to think its an educated guess.
I must stress though I could be wrong and we genuinely might transform into Norway on the 24th June 2016 except I am not convinced that shape shifting is real.
But hey you might save your great grandkids from having a Turk for a neighbor, but you’ll still have Bangladeshi and Ghanaian born nurses cleaning your dying grandmothers shit and all in all it is they, the poor and the ones not in power and definitely not the political class that are the cause of all Britain’s problems isn’t it? It’s they who ushered in austerity and bailed out the banks and it is they that used to hang poor people at Tyburn too; it’s always (on this ISLAND) been the fault of the immigrants.
One of the last things Shakespeare ever wrote was a soliloquy he put into the mouth of Thomas Moore telling the English people to be kinder to those fleeing persecution and poverty in other lands (in this case from northern Italy) apart from the archaic language it could have been written last week. Sad really.
Which brings us onto Scotland. The SNP despite all their many shortcomings and blind spots are easily the most progressive of Britain’s mainstream parties on big issues like austerity, war and immigration. They have also made it clear that if the UK leaves the EU that would trigger a second referendum that the SNP would almost certainly win. Where would this leave us in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? With a far right Tory government, a few million UKIP supporters and the most politically progressive part of the nation gone forever. To think that the Labor and Tory warmongers will have any real opposition in an SNP-less Westminster seems fanciful to me. But hey maybe Corbyn will be the next PM and large sections of the English working class will rediscover that Polish plasterers are not their enemy, who knows? I doubt it though.
So, strangely I find myself telling you that I think a vote for the status quo – understanding what they actually means - in this instance is actually the more sensible option because the realistic alternative does, to me at least, seem that bleak.
Social justice groups will still have to fight, things will still be shit, austerity will continue, the banks will still run the world and be able to steal 500bn from the national economy after fucking it up, the EU Plutocracy will still do its best to keep poor countries of the south underdeveloped, all of that is true. But I honestly think that a post Brexit Britain will be even more neo-liberal and nationalist than today and for that reason with no illusions about what the status quo is, if you feel to vote I would vote remain, just.
Professor Michael Dougan on the EU
Brexit as nostalgia for empire
What would Brexit mean for Human rights
The EU is exporting UK Neo-Liberalism to the rest of Europe
The EU and other Neo-Liberal nightmares
Goves appeals to Anti-Intellectualism
MBC EU Debate
Why African Caribbean’s should vote for a left exit from the EU
How the EU works – a video guide
Blog about Shakespeare and Medieval migration
MBC EU position
TTIP is a very bad excuse to vote for Brexit
Institute for criminal policy research
The UK Is Exporting Neo-Liberalism to Europe
Gove appeals to anti-intellectualism
Some books for wider context
The Shock Doctrine By Naomi Klein
Captive State by George Monbiot
From The Ruins Of Empire by Pankaj Mishra
Black People In The British Empire by Peter Fryer
Bad Samaritans or Kicking Away the Ladder by Ha Joon Chang