Europe Will Drift Further to the Right if Britain Leaves EU
British economist John Weeks says there is a strong case for voting to remain in the European Union during the June 23 Brexit referendum.
Exiting the EU would sacrifice existing workers’ rights, and led to a further rise of the right in Britain and across Europe.
“Basically we would have the strengthening of the most right-wing and repugnant parts of the British political system and within the British within the Conservative Party. The current prime minister, who is no prince himself, who is quite reactionary, would be replaced by someone even more reactionary, Boris Johnson, who might be seen as sort of Britain’s answer to Donald Trump, though he’s even a bit more of a buffoon that Donald Trump,” said John Weeks.
The Conservative government of David Cameron organized the Brexit referendum late last year. Most polls now show that the vote will be close, with a slight lead in favor of leaving the E.U.
While Weeks describes the EU and Britain as “capitalist clubs,” he says Britain workers would remain protected under The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, a section of the European Union constitution which guarantees the right to strike and the right to organize.
“Those rights that are enshrined in the European Constitution are of use to workers and help protect people in–gay and gender rights, for example, the guarantees on gay and gender rights. Gay, lesbian, and gender rights in general are much stronger in the European constitution than in Britain,” Weeks said.
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert, coming to you from Quito, Ecuador.
On Thursday, June 23, citizens of Britain will hold a historic referendum on whether the country should remain or leave the European Union, commonly also known as the brexit referendum. Britain joined the European Economic Community, as it was then called, in 1973. And in 1975, membership was put to a first referendum test when 67 percent of voters voted in favor of membership. Since then, Britain’s membership has gone through numerous ups and downs because of British resistance to E.U. policies and decision-making processes. Britain also never joined the euro, the countries that use the euro instead of national currencies.
Fulfilling one of its campaign promises, the Conservative government of David Cameron proceeded to organize the brexit referendum late last year. Most polls now show that the vote will be close, but the most recent ones show that those favoring leaving the E.U. are slightly ahead right now.
Complicating matters for the British is that their arguments for remaining or leaving do not divide them along ideological lines. That is, both the left and the right in Britain are each divided on the issue.
Joining us from London to present his views on the brexit is John Weeks. John is professor emeritus of the University of London and author of the book Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy. His recent policy work includes a supplement of the unemployment program for the European Union and advising central banks of Argentina and Zambia.
Thanks for joining us, John.
JOHN WEEKS: Thank you for having me.
WILPERT: So it seems that the right has dominated the discussion around brexit recently, with some arguing that Britain should remain for economic reasons, and those others on the right arguing in favor of leaving, saying that it would be easier to control immigration if Britain leaves.
You favor remaining from a left perspective. What are your main arguments, first?
WEEKS: There are three arguments. First of all, I should note that every major progressive politician is in favor of staying. Jeremy Corbyn, his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. So I feel that I’m in good company.
The three reasons are, first, the consequences of leaving on workers rights. I would say that’s one of the most important thing. Second is the impact of Britain leaving on the far right in Europe. And third, the question of if brexit were to win, who would be the winner, in effect, in Britain?
So let’s take the first. Last Wednesday I was down at an event where an MP spoke, and also the head of the Fire Brigades Union. Unlike in the United States, the Fire Brigrades Union in Britain is one of the most radical. The head of it for a very long time was a member of the Communist Party. At any rate, the head of the Fire Brigades Union reminded everyone that his union had repeatedly used the labor law of the European Union to protect it against the attempts by the Conservative government to restrict Indian rights and to remove workers unlawfully, and so that what’s called the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union guarantees the right to strike, it guarantees the right to organize, it guarantees the right to pensions, and other things. That’s the first point.
Second point is that, as you and, I think, probably most of your watchers know, there is a very strong rise of the far right in Europe. And that is very worrisome because it’s not proto-fascist; it’s the old garden-variety fascism that we know well from the 1930s. The exit of Britain, would strengthen those elements who are almost uniformly in favor of coming out of the European Union. And that would be a very bad outcome indeed, not only for the people of Europe, but for the people of Britain.
Finally, in Britain, who would win? Basically we would have the strengthening of the most right-wing and repugnant parts of the British political system and within the British within the Conservative Party. The current prime minister, who is no prince himself, who is quite reactionary, would be replaced by someone even more reactionary, Boris Johnson, who might be seen as sort of Britain’s answer to Donald Trump, though he’s even a bit more of a buffoon that Donald Trump.
So those three things: workers’ rights, rise of the right on the continent, and the strengthening of the right in Britain.
WILPERT: Well, let me respond to the first point you make about workers’ rights, because that’s one thing I’ve heard other people on the left argue, that, well, basically, because the European Union is such an undemocratic place or institution, that entrusting protection of worker rights to that institution is not exactly a safe bet. Britain, in other words, would be better off relying on progressive social movements, whether it’s the union movement, the Labour Party, or other left forces in Britain, to protect worker rights and to fight for better rights than to rely on an institution such as the European Union. What’s your response to that?
WEEKS: Right. First of all, let me say, be absolutely clear: the European Union is very difficult to love. It has absolutely atrocious economic policies. But luckily for Britain, those are restricted, really, to if you’re a member of the euro. If you aren’t a member of the euro, pretty much those reactionary economic policies have little impact.
Okay. But let’s go specifically to your question. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, one of the clauses guarantees the right to strike. The existence of that law and the fact that it can be–anyone in Britain or anyone in the European Union can bring a grievance under that provision was one of the reasons why the Conservative government had to water down and weaken its current trade union law, which still hasn’t passed, partly because of fears that it will be declared illegal under European law. And it’s a very draconian law indeed.
Now, of course I wouldn’t rely on anybody in the European Union, any individual, or any government to protect my rights or the rights of any British workers. But the Charter of Fundamental Rights is part of the European Union constitution. It would be almost impossible to change, and it is enforced through the European Court of Human Rights. So it is pretty much out of the hands of governments.
Now, let me say that there might be a slight confusion on the left of people who are arguing this, because there are some rights which cannot be enforced in the way I’ve described. But the right to strike and the right to organize can.
WILPERT: This kind of brings me, actually, to another point, which is the economic orientation of the European Union. I mean, one of the main criticisms from the left has traditionally been that its economic policy is extremely neoliberal. I mean, we saw this in the whole battle about the bailout of the Greek economy. And then also now the European Union is engaging in negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Parnership, or TTIP, which is extremely neoliberal. And on top of it all, those countries that are part of the eurozone have to follow very kind of strict economic prescriptions about their domestic spending and their economic policy.
So it seems that being a part of the E.U. [incompr.] might actually also restrict left policies for governments that are part of the E.U. if they were to decide to pursue them. That is, if, let’s say, the Labour government or Cameron were to come into office, it would actually have its hands tied by the E.U. a lot more than it would if it weren’t part of the E.U. What’s your response to that?
WEEKS: Well, first of all I agree with much of what you said, and I think that the Greek government last year, when the ultimatum was laid down to them by the troika basically saying, sign this agreement, which is worse, actually, than we’ve been negotiating about and worse than anything you’ve had to face before, sign that or pull out, big governments should have pulled out.
Britain is in quite a different circumstance. It is not a member of the euro. It is a large country. We’re about to have an election in Spain on 28 June. Podemos, for example, the left-wing, the large left-wing party there, and the new organization that has been founded between Podemos and a young communist movement called United Podemos, they are not for pulling out of the European Union. They are not even for pulling out of the euro. Because why? ‘Cause Spain is a big country. If when Greece said, we don’t want to cooperate, they could be pretty much crushed by the troika. If Spain says, no, we will not cooperate, there really isn’t very much the European Union can do. There’s not very much the troika could do. Let’s call a spade a spade. There’s not very much the German Finance Ministry could do, which is pulling all the economic strings.
Now let’s move to Britain. Would they have more flexibility for being non-neoliberal if they were out of the European Union? We have to look at what was likely to happen if Britain were to pull out. If Britain were to pull out, David Cameron would resign, and he would be replaced by very far right neoliberal people who basically their agenda is–and this is no secret; you can read it in the right-wing newspaper–their agenda is free trade, get rid of the trade unions, get rid of all the labor protection. They want out of the European Union so they aren’t bound by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
So, as Matt Wrack, the head of the Fire Brigades Union, said when he spoke the other night, is the European Union a capitalist club? Of course it’s a capitalist club, and Britain is a capitalist club. But those rights that are enshrined in the European Constitution are of use to workers and help protect people in–gay and gender rights, for example, the guarantees on gay and gender rights. Gay, lesbian, and gender rights in general are much stronger in the European constitution than in Britain.
WILPERT: Well, there’s certainly a lot more we could probably go into, but we’ve run out of time. But we’ll see what happens. Then probably after the vote we’ll come back to you again to see if we can analyze what happened and what this means for Britain.
So thanks again, John, for being with us today.
WEEKS: Well, thank you very much.
WILPERT: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.
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