Under The Brexit Debate
The British ‘debate’ over Brexit has had a strangely mindless quality to it because the polarity Brexit v Remain in and of itself doesn’t mean very much. The interesting questions are, for Brexiteers, what sort of Brexit do we want? and for Remainers, what sort of Europe do we want?
Thus, the most prominent ideological supporters of Brexit argue that it would liberate us from the constraints of European regulation and allow us to negotiate trade deals that would be better than those negotiated by the EU as a whole. But the notion that Britain, with its wrecked manufacturing base and its bloated financial services sector would be in a strong position to negotiate advantageous trade deals with the likes of the USA, China or Australia is risible. It would only make sense on the basis of being able to offer a lighter regulatory framework and a cheaper labour force, the well-recognised ‘race to the bottom’. It is almost certainly not what most of those who voted for Brexit had in mind.
They would have thought more closely in terms of a slogan Labour launched recently but has so far singularly failed to develop – Rebuilding Britain. They would have seen the state Britain was in and thought the problem could be addressed by a restoration of sovereignty. This in itself a reasonable idea has remained at the level of an instinctive feeling, albeit a powerful one, because no-one is bothering to work it out in a coherent manner. Though it is inherent in the Keynesian approach to the economy being developed by, for example, Robert Skidelsky, and also by those interested in the related ‘Modern Monetary Theory’, both of which presuppose national control over the currency.
On the Remain side, one might like the EU for the ‘four freedoms’ of the Single Market, which were also liked by Margaret Thatcher (all four of them) – an internationalised economy that renders Socialist organisation of the national economy impossible. Alternatively, one might see the EU as a project headed in the direction of a ‘United States of Europe’, opening up the possibility of Socialist organisation of the economy on a much larger scale, a tendency already implicit in the common regulatory framework and in the obvious need for much better political oversight of the Euro.
In other words, just as the two major parties are riven into pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit camps (or perhaps pro-Brexit, reluctantly prepared to accept Brexit and anti-Brexit camps) so the camps themselves are riven by an as yet largely unspoken controversy which is actually much more fundamental – and should be of much more fundamental interest – than the simple In/Out confrontation, which is being conducted on the assumption that current ideas of production and distribution will continue to prevail.
Socialists should be asking which is the best option for a Socialist reorganisation of the economy? If the answer is Brexit, then the debate has to be wrested out of the hands of the free traders. If it is Remain, then we have to press for the UK to become part of the Eurozone and exercise an influence directly the opposite of the influence we have been exercising ever since 1979.