The problems Europe faces won't be solved by Britain turning its back on them
The referendum on whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union may still be two years away, but already the campaigns on both sides are gearing up.
We’ve heard a lot from the Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant right, the likes of UKIP who stand utterly opposed to the EU’s basic tenet of freedom of movement and who want to tear up what protections European law offers for British workers.
We’ve also heard from the business lobby and from the mainstream politicians who want to keep Britain in Europe purely because, for all its potential, the EU as it’s currently constituted is run in the interests of multinational corporations for whom it represents a lucrative market. They will lobby to make the EU an ever more friendly place for business, even if that comes at the expense of the rights of Europe’s people, as we have witnessed in the backroom deals being done over TTIP.
There has to be a better way. Not the way of the little Englanders or the big businessers.
We will soon be launching Another Europe is Possible, a cross-party campaign to vote to remain in the EU in the referendum, but also a platform to call for radical reform.
Initial signatories include Caroline Lucas MP, Zoe Williams, Michael Mansfield QC, Richard Murphy and Billy Hayes. Unlike the official remain campaign, we recognise that the EU as it stands today is deeply flawed. It is, at its heart an undemocratic, neoliberal institution. And we will campaign to change that. But we do not believe walking away is the answer.
To leave now, under the current government, would only make things worse for workers for whom progressive measures such as the Working Time Directive can provide protection from the most right-wing government Britain has ever had.
Some on the left oppose the EU on the grounds that it favours profit over people. But David Cameron’s government is among Europe’s leading proponents of neoliberal policies and a key advocate of TTIP. Leaving Europe would not save us from TTIP. We would get the same raw deal under a different name and any protections the EU did afford would be gone.
It was not Europe that imposed the bedroom tax on Britain. It is not Europe that is introducing punishing tax credit cuts. And because we are not in the euro, unlike in Greece, it is not Europe that is tying us into the straightjacket of austerity. As well as campaigning for a reformed Europe, we will be opposing any of Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU that hurt workers’ rights and human rights.
A Brexit would also be at the cost of freedom of movement. The right to work, settle and live in any EU member state. The left has always stood up for migrants against the kind of scapegoating that stands at the heart of right-wing campaigns to leave so that fewer foreign people can come here.
The bringing down of borders between our diverse nations is one of the greatest achievements of a century that opened with the slaughter of millions on the fields of France and Belgium. And it is to our credit and benefit that people from all across the EU are welcome here.
Of course, it is right to criticise the EU for the barriers it has put up to migrants from outside its borders. It can and must do much more for Syrian refugees fleeing the horrors of war. But the answer to Fortress Europe is not to create Fortress Britain.
Finally, leaving would be a blow to efforts to fight climate change and environmental degradation. These are global problems we face. They cannot be tackled by one nation alone. Only through cross-border cooperation can we begin to meet the colossal challenges we face in the 21st century.
We need strict, common environmental policies of the sort only supranational bodies with the power of the EU can properly enforce. When the sea is rising, it won’t help to raise our drawbridge.
The EU is in desperate need of a democratic overhaul. It must be radically reformed to serve the interests of its citizens, not its biggest corporations. But the problems this continent faces will not be solved by Britain turning its back on them. Instead we want to work with progressive movements across the EU so that together we can realise a common dream: that another Europe is possible.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.