von Fabian Frenzel, 27.6.16
Friday morning there was shock. The referendum result is a historic defeat for the left, the world has taken a massive step towards an epoch dominated by right-wing populism, with all the implications: more racist murderers on our streets, more people dying in their attempts to cross borders, more injustice and inequality!
Since then, it has become clear that those campaigning for ‘leave’ have no idea what to do with their victory. Another shock, perhaps, but also an amazing opportunity. We can and we must reverse the referendum result.
‘Leave’ without a plan
The referendum has created a power vacuum. But the ‘leave’ campaign has not filled the vacuum. The first thing Nigel Farage did was to cancel the ‘leave’ campaign’s promise to channel an additional 350 Million Pounds weekly into the NHS. Farage never made the promise, not being part of the official ‘leave’ campaign. But the official ‘leave’ campaign has not challenged him, so we must assume that this promise is now effectively broken.
Then MEP Daniel Hannan argued that Britain will continue to accept the freedom of movement of labour post Brexit. BBC’s top hack Evan Davis, certainly no person to be naïve about politicians and their promises, was publically freaking out in disbelief: labour migration into the UK will continue exactly as is! Second promise broken – Tick.
And for ‘taking back control’? Ah no, not really: instead of speeding up the process of separation from the EU by triggering Article 50, Liam Fox argued that there is plenty of time: no rush to leave, informal negotiations that may drag out for months. Article 50 may not even have to be invoked. What this boils down to, in effect, is years of negotiations with the EU about a special status. In other words, more of the usual: Ever since I have followed politics Britain has negotiated with the EU over its special status.
The most important sign of the weakness of ‘leave’ however is the silence of Boris Johnson. You would think a politician grabs the power now freely floating around Downing Street. Instead Johnson issues a desperate plea to Cameron to continue and then goes to watch cricket. All Johnson has said since then boils down to: no worries, no changes planned! It seems increasingly that the referendum was but a coup within the conservative party.
The contradictions riddling the right in the light of their victory are perhaps not so surprising. From a pro-business, capitalist perspective, the EU brings simply too many advantages. Only nutcases imagine an economy organised on a national scale. For most ‘leave’ was never about leaving the single market. But the single market comes with free movement of labour. It also comes with an almost infinite number of regulations and laws. Most of these are effectively EU laws, and now need to be translated into new British laws. This means copying existing EU laws into UK laws without being able to change much (as this would threaten the single market). This exercise is pointless but far from simple: It is going to occupy the British civil service for a decade. Is this what ‘taking back control’ is suppose to mean? Pretty boring it is as well, too boring, I am sure, for someone like Johnson.
Without a plan, and with all central promises already broken, the winning side in this referendum has lost all legitimacy. Turmoil in the markets and a weakening pound will further undermine the ‘leave’ arguments. Many who voted for ‘leave’ might now turn further to the right, hoping someone will finally give them a better deal. The danger of a massive further turn to right-wing populism can only be contained by a sustained campaign for a reversal of the referendum.
European Citizens of the UK
Many argue we need to accept the referendum result. All Jeremy Corbyn wants to do now, is to review labour’s migration policy. The Greens want to revisit proportional representation. In a situation where the right is in disarray, Labour and the Greens need to be more courageous than this: why not exploit the fact that the promises of ‘leave’ are already broken? We need to go to the labour heartlands and explain that whatever people might think and want, migration is here to stay. And we need to make promises, for real, about a redistribution of wealth. It goes some way along the lines what Paul Mason has suggested, but we need to go further than Mason. The referendum result, the victory of the populist right, must be reversed and Labour and Greens should openly campaign for this!
MP David Lammy wants to reverse the referendum vote in parliament. But to ignore the referendum is wrong without a sustained political campaign to raise broad political support. Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that the Scottish parliament may veto Brexit. This can be enacted right now, because it is fully backed by the result of the vote. Why not demand that the English and Welsh dismantle the UK first and then split from the EU on their own? Sturgeon is, without a doubt, the most credible politician in the UK at the moment.
There is also the Lib Dems: they sense that there is an opportunity and campaign openly for a reversal of the referendum. You may think what you want about the Lib Dems, but this is the right approach.
There is also a political force that has not yet been considered: Two million European citizens in the UK do not hold UK or Irish passports and were barred from voting in the referendum! They now organize for a day of protests and strikes on the 4th of July. United with British citizens that are and want to remain European citizens we can challenge the referendum on at least four counts:
1) The UK has no right to leave the EU against the will of two of its constituent parts, Northern Ireland and Scotland. If England and Wales want to leave the EU, they need to dismantle the UK first.
2) EU citizens in the UK without a UK passport were excluded from the vote. In contrast, English residents of Scotland were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum 2 years ago!
3) The ‘leave campaign’ has broken all key promises of their campaign within 24 hours after the results were in. The people who voted ‘leave’ have been mislead.
4) To enable the UKs continuous economic relations with the EU and the rest of the world, nearly all of the EU legislation from which Britain would withdraw needs to be replaced by UK laws of the exact same content. Brexit is but a huge bureaucratic charade.
The UK left has a historic opportunity, and perhaps an obligation, to halt the advance of right wing populism. The platform on which we stand is our shared European citizenship, whether we hold British passports or not!
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