What is the real choice UK voters are being called upon to make on June 23rd? The options seem to be either to side with the Eurosceptic forces of UKIP and their allies among the Conservatives, or to approve the government’s vision of what a better deal within Europe corresponds to. In truth, neither of these are worth supporting.
As the EU referendum campaign grinds on, the thing that concerns me the most about what David Cameron achieved in his negotiations — and thus about the deal that we in Britain are going to be voting on in June — is that he has succeeded in making the EU worse. And Britain in it, worse. Thus, for example, the exception he won for the City of London is terrible news. It will keep Britain dependent on financial Ponzi-schemes and on being a tax haven. Worse still, and the bit that concerns me above all in what Cameron got in the agreement in Brussels, is the so-called ‘competitiveness’ part of the agreement. What that part of the agreement basically means is slashing regulations that do good things for us: regulations that do good things for workers, that do good things for the environment. Look in the months and years to come for the word ‘red-tape’ to be used as an excuse for gutting the very things that have in the past made the EU, despite its manifold flaws, worthwhile.
So what really concerns me is that what we are being offered here in the #EURef is a choice between leaving the EU, with UKIP, or staying in an EU which we’ve made not worth having, with the Conservatives. That’s why I now think that actually the right way to go here is to reject both alternatives, and to say that if we were going to stay in the EU, we would only want to stay in an EU that is actually better, or at the very least no worse, than it was. That is unfortunately not on offer. So I’ve come to the conclusion that actually this whole referendum is a set-up-job between an EU that is being made more neoliberal than ever and an even more right-wing anti-EU faction. I say: a plague on both their houses.
Some say that we should stay in the EU because of its emphasis (until, of course, the barriers started going up, recently…) on freedom of movement, relative to the alternative (of not being in the EU). This doesn’t convince me. I’m very concerned that some people in my own party, the Green Party, most of whom are going to be voting to stay in the EU in the referendum, are just not wiling to listen to those many voters who are not-unreasonably concerned about the number of people who have been migrating to this country (the UK). And most of the people who are concerned about the number of people migrating to this country are working-class people. And the reason they are concerned is that they are worried that the differential between their wages and what the very richest people in this country are getting is growing, and that that is being fuelled by immigration: and the statistics support that concern. Mass immigration is driving growing income inequality in this country.
The claim I’ve just made may sound surprising. Isn’t there plenty of research showing that migrants bring more benefits than costs to countries like the UK? No. There is indeed plenty of research showing this, if one focuses on measures such as GDP growth. But we Greens don’t favour such measures – on the contrary, we favour a post-growth future. When one looks by contrast at measures such as the Gini coefficient – i.e., when one looks at what I highlighted in the previous paragraph, the driving of inequality – then the evidence is on the side of those who see net economic and social harm rather than net economic and social benefit from large-scale migration.
So on the one hand, I am obviously completely on side with the Green party inasmuch as we have been leading the way in saying that we as a society have to be much more humane towards refugees, and that’s of course where UKIP fall down completely: that’s why I’m on record as repeatedly calling UKIP out, publicly, over their xenophobia. But I think that at the same time we need to be sure that we are listening to the reason hereabouts why some Greens are concerned about the EU: free movement of labour is exactly what big business wants. (Why else do you think that the likes of Goldman Sachs are funding the Remain campaign heavily?! Why is ‘Remain’ supported by Richard Branson, by RyanAir boss Michael O’Leary, and indeed by the Confederation of British Industry?) And the real trouble with the EU now is that it is becoming evermore a club for big business, and David Cameron’s negotiation, as I’ve briefly set out above, has made it evenmore like that. The way the EU operates overwhelmingly works in favour of big businesses and large firms, the kind of corporate interests who quite literally have tens of thousands of lobbyists in Brussels. The EU is in this sense a club for secretive and gargantuan corporate interests. Well actually, it has been for decades, and there’s zero evidence that it’s going to change: such an organisation, even if (as is true) it has some silver linings, is on balance just not worth defending.
Am I scared of what will happen if the Great British public vote to Leave? You bet. But I also think that under those circumstances there would be a new political opportunity.
I worry that my many friends who are planning on voting Remain are ONLY operating from a position of fear. They are fighting a defensive rearguard action in defence of something that has become pretty-much indefensible, because they are worried that what will follow will be even worse. Well, it might be. But only if we let it be so.
I think that these fearful Remain-ers need to free their minds up.
But once we really free our minds up, then it need no longer be a binary choice. One doesn’t have to volunteer to be the lackey of either Cameron or Farage.
We are now facing a referendum and the choices we are being offered are: either Cameron’s deal, which as I say has some very worrying aspects in terms of being more pro-corporate; or we pull out all together. What I’m saying is: I just can’t bring myself to accept either of those choices. I would like to see a Europe which is more ecological, which is a safer place to live in the future, safer vis-à-vis the level of chemicals in the environment, safer vis-à-vis pollution levels, taking control of our climate back from the polluters: but it’s simply not on offer in this referendum ballot-paper choice.
The good people of DIEM25 say: let’s try to make it happen, in the next decade. But I’m not willing to sign a promissory note that David Cameron will interpret simply as legitimating him and his government and his deregulatory agenda. I see very very little sign of any real prospect of the EU being reformed in the kind of way that DIEM25 want. Unless there is a vote that doesn’t simply end up voting for the EU.
That’s why, after a lot of soul searching, I’ve decided that I’m going to spoil my ballot, for the first time in my life. I’m going to say no to this whole fake referendum which has been a setup job by Cameron to pit the Conservative party against UKIP, leaving us Greens, Lib Dems, and Labour out of the picture. To the Remain and Leave campaigns, I say: a plague on both your houses.