Why campaign to stop Brexit?
To uphold the rights of the three million EU migrants currently in Britain, our workmates, our neighbours, our friends, our fellow trade-unionists. To defend their right to reunite their families. To sustain the right of others across Europe to come to work and live in Britain, and the right of British-born people to go to work and live in Europe.
We want more open borders, less fences and barbed-wire and barriers between countries. The technologies and productive capacities of today indict the division of continents into walled-off nation-states.
But Britain can’t afford more migrants?
On the contrary: public services can’t afford a reduction in the number of migrant workers. The labour movement, in which migrant workers have played a vitalising part for over 180 years now, can’t afford a reduction.
About 200,000 people from the 27 EU countries work in health and care, 5% of the total workforce. About 10% of doctors in NHS England are from the EU27.
Even the Tory government has recently had to ease its restrictions on migrant workers for the NHS.
Researchers at University College London have found that migrants from the ten “new” EU member states in Eastern Europe countries pay about 12% more (£5 billion) in taxes than they get in benefits and services. Migrants from other EU states pay in 64% more than they get out (£25 billion), and those from outside the EU pay 3% more than they get (another £5 billion).
In London, for example, inward migration — from the EU and from other parts of Britain too — has put housing into short supply. The answer to that is to tax the rich to build more social housing and expand other public services.
But migrant workers pull down pay rates?
Researchers at LSE and elsewhere conclude that increased immigration has tended more to raise pay rates. Countries with high immigration are generally more dynamic, as well as culturally richer, than those with low migration.
At most there may be some small downward pressure in the lowest wage bands. The answer there is stronger trade unions and better enforcement of minimum wage laws.
That’s all very well, but the EU isn’t pro-migrant
The EU isn’t pro-migrant, though some major EU states, such as Germany and Sweden, have a better record than Britain.
In 2017, Germany gave asylum to 524,000 refugees, France 111,000, and Italy 78,000. The UK admitted only 28,000, just marginally more than tiny Belgium.
We will work with the left across Europe to open up its borders. Putting up new barriers within Europe won’t help that.
Like it or not, the 2016 referendum decided, and we must go with that
A snap vote on vague alternatives, with the Tory government then shaping the actual outcome, is poor democracy.
Democracy means the continuous formation, disputation, revision, and re-formation of a collective majority opinion. Minorities must have their say, and have channels of opportunity to change or reverse the majority opinion.
The “Leave” option in 2016 was presented as freeing cash for the NHS. Now we know that Brexit prospects are already damaging the NHS.
It was presented as a matter of quickly negotiating slick trade deals with countries outside the EU. Now we know that’s not happening. The government’s own Office for Budgetary Responsibility forecasts that Brexit will bring a shortfall of £15bn a year to the UK’s public finances. Other government studies show that Brexit will reduce economic growth (and reduce it more in the areas that voted Leave).
The vote excluded 16-17 year olds, who have most at stake, and EU citizens living here, although they have the right to vote in local elections.
Parliament and the electorate have every right to impose as much control as they can on the Tory ministers now taking the 2016 referendum as a mandate for their sort of Brexit.
What’s all this about the Irish border?
All the benign hopes of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 rested on the assumption, unquestioned then, that Britain and the 26 Counties would remain linked in an ever-more-integrated EU. The larger frame of European integration would smooth ancient conflicts.
That benign scenario has disappointed over the last twenty years. There are still over a hundred “peace walls” separating communities in Northern Ireland, though a few have been taken down in recent years. But disruption caused by Brexit could derail even the most tentative progress.
Whatever the Tories say about smart technological fixes, re-erecting barriers between Britain and the EU must mean either barriers in the Irish Sea, or barriers between Northern Ireland and the South.
If you campaign in the Labour Party to stop Brexit, you’re just backing the Labour right wing
Some Labour right-wingers, by no means all, support Britain staying in the Single Market. Their motives are smoother supply chains for industry in Britain, but their conclusion is right.
On whether Labour Party conference 2018 should be able to discuss and vote on Brexit policy, for example, we are willing to ally with those Labour right-wingers. As in the heyday of Stalinism we would ally with anti-Stalinist Labour right-wingers against the pro-Stalinist left on workers’ rights in the Stalinist states.
The Labour-right Single Marketers, however, mostly do not support free movement. They claim that they can find tricks and dodges within Single Market rules to limit free movement. Our priorities are very different.
The Single Market enforces free-market rules and would stop a Labour government doing socialist measures
The Single Market is free-marketist in large part because of British pushing and pressure. Its rules reflect the process over recent decades of European governments adopting what they used to shun as the “Anglo-Saxon” policies pioneered by Thatcher and Reagan.
But the EU is a loose confederation, not a state. Reprisals for breaching its rules would be the least of worries for a workers’ government in Britain which really challenged capitalist power. That workers’ government could expect — and would need — much more in the way of cooperation with European labour movements inspired by its example.
France, Germany, and other states have flouted EU rules about budget deficits constantly. Hungary and others have flouted EU rules about admitting refugees: that shows (in a bad way) that even small EU member states are not terrorised by EU rules.
Immediately, nothing in Labour’s 2017 manifesto would be blocked by Single Market rules. Going beyond the 2017 manifesto, restoring union rights to solidarity action, to quick responses, to picketing, would be against no EU rule. In fact, France has wider, better union rights than Britain had before Thatcher.
Restoring NHS funding would be against no EU rule. Ditto restoring local government autonomy and funding, and thus social care and libraries. Ditto restoring state-funded schools to local authority control. Ditto abolishing SATS, GCSEs and school “league tables”. Ditto restoring welfare benefits. Ditto nationalising the banks (which, after all, the Labour government did in 2008, only in a conservative and temporary way).
What’s wrong with the official Labour Party policy of wanting to negotiate a single market with the EU, not the Single Market?
We want to change EU rules, to democratise the EU, and win social levelling-up across Europe. The way to do that is to work with the left and labour movements across Europe.
The Single Market is, at its core, a set of harmonised regulations for products, labelling, safety and so on across Europe. The proposal to whistle up an instant different “single market” through Brexit diplomacy is as if in 1752, when Britain changed its calendar to fit with Europe, and there were riots in protest, someone should say: We are for a single calendar to be negotiated with Europe, but not The Single Calendar.
Fundamentally, the EU is capitalist, and we must break with capitalism
The Tory Brexit taking shape, and any likely Brexit soon, means a Britain just as capitalist as now, but meaner, more illiberal, more walled-off. That is regression. Socialists build on the progressive achievements (and semi-achievements, and quarter-achievements) of capitalism, rather than trying to reach the future by diving back into an idealised past.
The way beyond capitalism is through united left-wing and working-class efforts reaching across borders, uniting workers continent-wide and worldwide.
Official and academic reports on:
• Impact of Brexit on NHS: bit.ly/brexit-nhs
• Impact of migration on public budgets: bit.ly/brexit-taxes
• Impact of migration on wages: bit.ly/brexit-wages
• Impact of Brexit on output: bit.ly/brexit-gdp