Five Advantages of Brexit, From a Remainer’s Perspective

On 23rd June 2016 the British public voted for the UK to leave the European Union by a comfortable margin of 51.9%, a decision that is set to transform a 43-year old political and economic relationship. It is not yet known when Article 50, the two-year contingency plan built into the Lisbon Treaty which facilitates withdrawal from the EU will be implemented, however the global impact of this forthcoming decision is still being calculated, and the future consequences are by all measures going to be profound.

As can probably be expected of someone of my age and level of education, I ultimately voted for Remain yesterday. But this was not a foregone conclusion: my pangs of conscience wanted seriously to seek out credible and convincing arguments for both sides. Like all of us I had family members and friends who were gearing up to vote Leave, and whichever way the result was to fall I wanted to be able to see the positives of the decision our country made as a whole. The referendum itself is only the beginning: it is vital that the people in influential positions seize the wild bull unleashed this week and steer it in the least damaging way possible; secure jobs, the pound, the market, and most importantly, do so in a way that complies with the decision of the British public.

I am not an optimist by nature, and I am still gravely concerned about the current version of events, and the turns they are likely to take. Regardless, here are a few benefits of the departure of the UK from the EU.

1. We are closer to the truth

The result of this referendum, that the UK would prefer to leave the EU rather than remain, was unexpected by nearly everyone, on both sides of the debate. Although polls were sketchy and few, with no equivalent previous data for comparison, psephologists and bookmakers alike expected Remain to be ahead by a significant margin at the moment of polling station closure (10pm on the 23rd). Even prominent campaigners such as UKIP leader Nigel Farage were conceding defeat at this time; but of course this forecast was inevitably proven misjudged by the early hours of the following morning.

The message was direct. The deindustrialized North and (my backyard) the Midlands were more strongly in favour of Leave than was expected, as was overall EU beneficiaries Wales, leaving the majority of Remain support centred around inner-city London and SNP Scotland. Some of us may not like what this division is telling us about working class attitudes to immigration, or the willingness of our electorate to use their vote as an anti-Westminster protest in spite of the risks, but any government that recognises this will be stronger than if it were to underestimate or ignore these warnings altogether. This referendum has been fought on both sides using misinformation. This may be inevitable in post-facts politics, but as a Remainer I would much rather have won a debate without the use of deliberate lying and spurious allegations.[1] Now the truth has arrived it should be analysed and used for constructive future debates concerning our collective future.

2. Fringe politics has won

Despite supporting Remain I was always sceptical about the argument that positive and significant improvements to the EU would be possible if the UK had voted to stay (it’s not even certain what changes the country would ask for). But knowing now that the opposite has occurred I find it much more likely that our country’s voice will be heard, at least initially. It is a widely-held view that Prime Minister David Cameron did not want this referendum to go ahead, that it was a General Election manifesto pledge designed to unify a divided (in some cases dissenting) Conservative party. The biggest influencing factor was the rise of the populist, single-issue UK Independence Party (UKIP), who with a mixture of grassroots organisation and media sensationalism made Euroscepticism a mainstream political subject. While the UKIP-affiliated leave.eu was not the official Leave campaign, Nigel Farage’s party must be given credit for scooping up large numbers of voters from parts of the UK that neither the Tory Leavers of Vote Leave (Johnson, Gove, et al) or the Labour party could reach.

This is the first time in decades that fringe, grassroots politics has affected the political structure of the UK. UKIP sensed an appetite for anti-EU legislation amongst the British public, and seized upon it. The Left, both Labour and the smaller parties, would do well to study their example.

3. Neoliberalism has lost

By which I mean, one neoliberal alliance has lost ground in the UK, while another, more manageable one has gained it, while a third has been torn in two. The impact of Brexit on the EU is likely to cause an ontological crisis in Brussels in the near future, if not an existential one, and the rest of Europe will be seriously considering whether the rise of the Right in their country reflect a similar alienation of their people with the forty-year-old project. It is unbecoming of the Left to apologise for the EU, and ignoring its exploitation of the global South and its handling of the migrant crisis. Better that they work towards a common goal: to devolve its power and influence in terms of economic might, and improve its standing as a humanitarian political force. The EU isn’t finished, and perhaps the referendum has taught us that it shouldn’t be, but today has been a defeat for neoliberalism. Whether this equates to a victory for freedom is yet to be determined.

4. The balance of power has shifted

The prime minister will be stepping down in October. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has assured Scotland that their overwhelming support to remain in the EU constitutes a mandate for another Scottish referendum. And the EU are not currently trying to apply the brakes to Article 50. All of these represent a shift in the balance of power in the UK. It will take a considerable amount of time to renegotiate old trade deals, but with the volatility of global markets it would be surprising if their terms would be immediately worse off for Britain. A shrinking EU is a less powerful one, which means good things for the countries most affected by their rampant market deregulation and exploitative Economic Partnership Agreements.[2] Sometimes the best thing to do is to rip up old negotiations and start again. We shall see.

5. An opening has appeared for the Left

It’s no secret that across Europe the political Left have lost considerable ground. After a lacklustre show of Remain support from the historically Eurosceptical Jeremy Corbyn, there have been suggestions that his position as Labour leader hangs in the balance. It will be either him or his successor the Left will look to take advantage of an even more vulnerable Conservative government, presumably led by Boris Johnson. And it will be a more radical Left than we have seen in recent years. Ultimately this is the wrong time for a Left exit (Lexit), I think. If the socioeconomic infrastructure was there to absorb job losses and wage reductions, such as Universal Basic Income (UBI) and worker automated technologies to replace the unskilled labour currently being done by EU migrants, there would be a more reasonable case to be made, but these changes would take several decades to effectively implement.[3] This may be a tad optimistic (the future of the left is far from certain right now, and is notable by its global absence), but perhaps these measures now have a greater chance of being proposed and reaching a stage where they can be trialled. The decision to leave or remain in the EU was one that dismissed party political lines and affiliations, even if both sides were led by Conservatives. As Elliot Murphy argued earlier this month, the “‘choice’ of austerity in Britain is no such thing in the EU, being part of its treaty.”[4] If Labour and the general Left can recover more quickly from Brexit than the Tories, they have a considerable upper hand to reshape British politics for the better, one they would be foolish not to take.

 

[1] To take just one example, my Facebook wall has for weeks covered with pro-Remain propaganda revealing the most derogatory, patronising attitudes towards Leavers; that they are xenophobic, Trump supporters or even Putin sympathisers. Leavers were able to easily dismiss the Remainers as credible or rational, whereas if the strong arguments for staying in the EU were allowed to breathe for themselves I am certain more people would have voted Remain.

[2] Adabunu, K. (2016) “Why African-Caribbeans should vote for a Left Exit from the EU”, Counterfire, published online at http://www.counterfire.org/articles/opinion/18383-why-african-caribbeans-should-vote-for-a-left-exit-from-the-eu.

[3] Carswell, J. (2016) “Review: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams”, orbistertius, available online at https://orbistertiusnet.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/review-inventing-the-future-postcapitalism-and-a-world-without-work-by-nick-srnicek-and-alex-williams/.

[4] Murphy, E. (2016) “Another Tamriel is Possible: Brexit Proposals vs Solutions”, CounterPunch, published online at http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/06/07/another-tamriel-is-possible-brexit-proposals-vs-solutions/.