Fear and loathing on the referendum trail 1: Matter do ‘et?

When all this EU referendum mallarky began I was fairly agnostic and toying with abstention. As a device for deciding on the next leader of the Tory Party it seemed a mite over the top. In or out? Cameron or Johnson. Matter do’ et?

Despite all the hot air generated by Euromyths over the years – straight bananas, banning mince pies, forcing fish and chip shops to use Latin names for fish, covering up barmaids’ cleavages and the like – it seemed difficult to get too worked up over what are in practice small differences between Brexiters and Bremainers.

Andy Warhol's banana - banned by the EU
Andy Warhol’s banana – banned by the EU

Since the 1980s the EU has changed direction. In its early years it tended towards transnationalism (pooling sovereignty to build cross-Community institutions and decision-making). After the 1980s, transnationalism gave way to intergovernmentalism (where the bulk of decisions are made by governments and vetoes can be applied). In parallel, the EU moved from a broadly social democratic, welfarist approach to stuff like workers’ rights and the environment towards neoliberalism (a focus on market competition). (For a relatively short explanation of what neoliberalism involves see here).

As the move to neoliberalism unfolded, UK Governments of various hues (Labour, Con/Lib Dem and then Conservative) were found at the forefront, urging business-friendly policies, dismantling ‘regulation’, ‘freeing up’ labour markets, extending the single market to ever-wider areas such as utilities and services, extolling a switch from public provision to the private sector and encouraging the transfer of wealth and resources from publicly accountable hands to private control.

More recently, it watched from the sidelines as the Eurozone handed over power to a European Central Bank and financial technocrats. It’s stood by as the interests of German banks and other creditors take precedence over the democratic wishes of voters in Greece and other countries, who are bullied into swallowing the bitter pill of austerity whether they want it or not.

The Duchy benefits from the EU's CAP to the tune of c.£180k a year
The Duchy benefits from the EU’s CAP to the tune of c.£180k a year

Meanwhile, the UK Government has opposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which re-directs taxes to farmers and landowners, with the biggest landowners, such as the Duchy of Cornwall, every year raking in six-figure sums in benefits. Despite myths about open borders, the UK government did not join the Schengen agreement. (Contrast the customs and passport checks on entry to the UK with the free and easy entry on the other side of the Channel that was the norm until recently.) In short, the UK has cheered on the EU’s move towards neoliberalism while becoming increasingly semi-detached from the EU.

Cameron’s ‘deal’ preceding this referendum merely carries this trend even further. More opt-outs, more deregulation, more market competition. Nothing in it about working more energetically to combat dangerous climate change. Nothing about democratising the over-bureaucratised structures of the EU. Nothing about doing more to defend workers’ rights. Nothing about reversing the disastrous austerity policies that result in the poor, especially in southern Europe, paying the highest price for the bankers’ greed and incompetence back in 2008.

Nothing either about resisting trade treaties such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Cameron’s Government was one of those egging the EU on to include investor-state dispute settlements in these. These would allow transnational corporations to subject governments to shadowy and secretive international legal action and sue them if their policies adversely affect company profits. This effectively places issues affecting such profits beyond the reach of democratic politics and hands transnational corporations a veto over government decisions.

Voting Remain in this referendum therefore means staying in an increasingly neoliberal orientated EU. So what’s the alternative?


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