Friday, 11 January 2019

A Real Socialist Alternative to Brexit

It is probably no coincidence that Owen Jones, on the same day that Jeremy Corbyn told us he was going to renegotiate a “new brexit deal”, published an article in the Guardian suggesting that the way forward was a Norway+ deal. Norway Plus is a kind of “Brexit In Name Only” deal that would see us remain in the Single Market and Customs Union and keep freedom of movement. Given that Jeremy Corbyn also said he wanted to bring Remainers and Leavers together, one can see the attraction of Norway+ as an apparent compromise.

As a Remainer, on a personal level I could probably live with Norway+, despite it effectively having the same principal flaw as May’s Blind Brexit “deal”, that of vassalage. Being on the naughty step of Europe is in many ways fitting for the UK right now.

However I am opposed in principle to any renegotiated deal, whether renegotiated by Mr Corbyn or anyone else, that would see us leave the EU, and I am opposed to it as a socialist, and member of Another Europe Is Possible. Norway+ would be a victory for Putin and fascists all over Europe. Here's why...

Being outside the EU, even if we were as closely linked as in Norway+, would have a big disadvantage; we would no longer have any real voice in Europe, we would not be able to campaign to change the EU for the better and make common cause with other socialist groups across the continent, like Podemos in Spain and Sryza in Greece, as well as emerging left-wing groups in Portugal, Austria, Malta and other places. It would mean we would not be able to help and support new left groups likely to emerge in places like France and Italy. 

One of the problems with the EU is its current neoliberal stance; this is something that needs to change and which can be changed, indeed it is ripe for changing. Being outside the EU means we will have absolutely no influence whatever over things like this. Inside, we can change the EU, the Gilets Jaunes protests suggest that there is a growing appetite for change across the EU, away from a neoliberal position to one like that associated with the policies of Jeremy Corbyn. 

The problem is, as we have already seen, the extreme right is always waiting to capitalise on grievances like those of the Gilets Jaunes, and as we have already seen, extreme right versions of this group have been popping up in many different places; in the UK the Yellow Vests are fascists. This is more than a metaphor for the way the far right works, appropriating the outward signs of anything vaguely rebellious. This is the way the far right operates at its core. The problems with neoliberalism and the way it disenfranchises and impoverishes, which are now becoming more apparent as the neoliberal forced consensus breaks down, are seized on by right-wing groups as vehicles for their own agenda. These fascists use the disaffectedness caused by neoliberal economic policies as a fertile recruiting ground for their hate. Fomenting hate and division is what these groups always do and this is what they are doing with those disenfranchised and left struggling under the oppression of neoliberalism. 

The only answer, the only way to prevent this from happening, is for the left to respond with coherent and workable anti-neoliberal policies. We need to give these people an option that is made up of hope and empowerment not fascism, division and hate. The left is the only group that can seriously provide an alternative to the grey, crushing neoliberalism that has scarred our world since the 1980s, and to those left behind and impoverished by its inequality-magnifying effects. 

Yet it is the far right that is on the march across Europe, not the left. These are groups which promote only anger, hate and division – all of which (more than coincidentally) help the neolibs by making it less likely that their system will be seriously challenged. Whether the UK is in or out of the EU, we will be affected by this growth in right-wing hate politics. Out of the EU however, we will be able to do nothing to resist it, we will have no influence to mould policies that can change the system and smash the cold, dead hand of neoliberalism which feeds this right-wing activity. 

This is why I oppose any deal that will see us leave the EU, even one negotiated by Jeremy Corbyn and endorsed by Owen Jones. Ultimately if we want to end this neoliberal nightmare we are going to need to work together with our neighbours in the EU, as only a large multinational group like the EU can effectively resist the global neoliberal forced consensus. Attempting to do so on our own will not merely fail, that failure will affect everyone else. The left needs to campaign for a second referendum (with a Remain option Barry Gardiner!) and then to reform the EU away from its current unpopular economic policies of miserable hopelessness. 

There is great danger in abandoning Europe to the far right and its emerging Trumpettes in Eastern Europe, but are great prizes to be won by the left as there is now an appetite for a proper change across the continent. Harnessing that desire for change and directing it to make that change happen is not only possible, it is likely if we work together, and constitutes the only way we can prevent the far right from misdirecting the sense of anger and hopelessness felt by people from the Baltic States to the Canaries. Leaving Europe and retreating into a myopic and ultimately futile, and possibly counterproductive, attempt to take down neoliberalism in isolation is what the neolibs and the far right want.

Seizing the moment and making Europe work for its people is the prize and that prize is one which, as socialists, we need to fight for, before it is too late.

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