Bring down the borders!

Submitted by Matthew on 2 March, 2016 - 12:20 Author: Colin Foster

The EU is bureaucratic, capitalist, mean-spirited towards refugees, a mess. Surely Brexit would be better?

As if Britain is less capitalist! In any case, none of the Brexiters - not Ukip, not even the fantasists talking about a "left exit" - really believes in a Britain cut off from the naughty world by high barriers and doing its own idyllic thing on its own as if the world ended at Dover. Oh? So what do they want?

In practice, they want a Britain tied into the capitalist world by a equally bureaucratic, equally capitalist, but messier set of treaties and agreements, and with a even more mean-spirited attitude to refugees and migrants.

That's what you say. What do they say for themselves?

The miserable, dull status-quo-worshipping official "vote in" campaign is right about one thing. The "vote out" people are evasive and contradictory about what they want. They have pointed at 25 different countries' different current relations with the EU as possible models. What is the balance of probabilities? The "vote out" people most commonly quote Norway as a model.

Norway is not in the European Union (it voted in a referendum not to join, primarily because its fisher people didn't like the EU's Common Fisheries Policy), but for almost everything other than fisheries it might as well be. It automatically accepts all EU single-market laws. It accepts free movement of people, capital, goods, and services. It pays into the EU budget; but it doesn't get EU assistance funds, and it has no say in the single-market laws. It is in the European Economic Area (EEA), a sort of outside ring of the EU. That wouldn't satisfy the Brexiters! They might settle for something like that. Even an Ukip government would want an extensive agreement with the EU to cover the interests of 1.8 million British citizens living in other EU countries, and to secure economic flows.

What has happened when countries have left the EU before?

There is only one example. Greenland voted to leave in 1982, and finished negotiating its exit in 1985. But Greenland is a tiny population (50,000-odd), and an autonomous region under Danish rule rather than an independent country. It uses the Danish currency and depends for much of its economic activity on Danish government spending in Greenland. It's of the same order of things as the Channel Islands, which are British "Crown dependencies" but strictly speaking outside the EU. Greenland's example has no relevance to Brexit.

What other models do they cite?

Switzerland, rather than have Norway's full access to the single market, negotiates access sector by sector, and accepts EU laws and regulations one by one. It also accepts free movement and pays fees to the EU. Switzerland's is a complicated arrangement, negotiated as a second-best after the country voted in a referendum in 1992 to reject EEA membership. It is under strain from two sides, from anti-immigration Swiss right-wingers and from exasperated EU leaders.

Turkey is (with some exceptions) inside the EU customs union, which means that products move freely and without tariffs between it and the EU countries, and its tariffs on imports from everywhere are determined by the EU. But it does not get the ability to export freely to other markets which EU countries get from EU-negotiated trade deals.

Canada is in the process of negotiating a free trade deal with the EU. But that process started in 2008 and the deal will not come into effect until 2017. According to EU law, a British vote to leave opens a two-year period to negotiate the terms of quitting. The period can be extended only by unanimous agreement. The process would be complicated. Britain would have to review or renegotiate about 15% of all its laws, over 12,000 EU regulations, and its trade agreements with more than 50 countries currently covered by EU deals. All that makes it likely that even a Ukip government would go for adapting an "off-the-shelf" model like the EEA (Norway).

The Brexited government would probably negotiate some incremental barriers to EU migration to Britain and some ability to slash EU-regulated worker protections (agency workers' rights, working-hours limitations, redundancy notice and payments, worker rights when jobs are transferred from one contractor to another), and pay for them by accepting some barriers to British exports.

So it wouldn't be that bad! Why not try it?

Even if the Brexiters could not make an immediate reality of all their rancid, mean-spirited, narrow-minded, xenophobic, worker-bashing ambitions, the boost from a Brexit vote to them, and to narrow nationalists all across Europe, would be horrible. It would be something like what has happened in Switzerland since its anti-EEA vote in 1992. Switzerland was long considered one of the most democratic and liberal societies in the world. Now the leading party (by far) is the Swiss People's Party, a Ukip-type party, only more right-wing than Ukip.

Oh. And what?

And Brexit would almost surely mean Scottish separation (because Scotland would want to stay in the EU) and a sharpening of tensions in Ireland (because the North-South border in Ireland, currently eased, would become a British-EU border).

So you think the status quo is ok?

Not at all. To reject the more bureaucratic, more unrestrainedly capitalist, more mean-spirited Brexit is not to accept the already bureaucratic, capitalist, mean-spirited EU. It is to say that labour movements and socialists prefer lower borders, easier interaction, more cosmopolitan relations, as the starting point for our efforts to weld cross-border workers' unity, force social levelling-up, win democracy, and secure migrant rights.

Why I’m voting to remain in the EU

By Anthony Johnson, student nurse in the “Bursary or Bust” campaign, personal capacity

Recently there has been a lot of talk amongst the left about how the EU referendum is a chance for change. This discussion, about reforming the EU by allying with socialist movements in Europe, is valid. Why? Because we need migrant nurses for our NHS. 14% of NHS nurses are migrant workers, 26% of doctors and 11% of the whole NHS workforce. The government has instituted draconian measures upon the workforce. We currently have 600,000 nurses in the UK. Only 370,000 of them are actively working. More of these will leave every day. If we left the EU, that's it. Our NHS will implode and we'll lose our right to health care. Don't vote out. A vote to leave is a vote against the NHS.

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