The impending EU referendum has already revealed ugly divisions within the Conservative Party. However, it is important that the left – and especially the Labour Party, understand the true nature of this referendum.
Unfortunately, within the left, some still believe that this referendum is only about the nature of the European Union and try to make a convincing case against the EU itself.
Let’s be honest: the EU isn’t in favour of people and it isn’t a democratic institution. So why should we vote-in to this autocratic club?
This referendum isn’t about the EU itself but about European immigration and the Tory Party. The Tories are deeply split on this issue. A minority of them consider that the European’s immigration has a positive impact on the economy as it offers access to a cheap labour force and help companies to keep wages low. However, the majority of the Tories believe that EU immigration has a negative impact on the country itself as it doesn’t help them to get re-elected.
The rise of UKIP has had a significant impact on the Conservative Party and has forced them to adopt a more aggressive stance against immigration.
As the last few years have shown, part of their electorate has now moved toward UKIP. The feeling of being a ‘foreigner’ in their own country, has fuelled the rise of UKIP among the Tory’s right-wing voters. For them, Britain is now under threat of being submerged by a huge wave of immigrants. The Tory MPs who are backing the Brexit are merely opportunist politicians that are scared to lose their job. Their backing of the ‘out’ vote can be explained by fear of losing support amongst the hard-core Tory voters.
It is evident that the following weeks will see a huge fight on the real impact of the EU immigration amid the Conservatives. Ministers will be looking for signs that European Union immigration to Britain for work has peaked after the next set of quarterly migration figures have been published. They will argue whether the country can or can’t stop the flow of EU immigrants coming to Britain for work.
The new figures published on Thursday 25th February are likely to be seized on by both sides in the debate over Britain’s future in Europe, with the numbers closely scrutinised for new trends and speculations within the Conservative Party.
On this matter, the ONS has recently published labour market statistics that showed the number of nationals of other EU countries working in Britain first passed the 2 million mark between April and June 2015 and has since appeared to stabilise at about 2.1 million. The latest figures for net immigration into the UK do actually confirm this picture. What no ones will notice, however, is that the number of British immigrants living in EU countries is still in the region of 2.3 million. In other words, as EU workers arrive into the UK, British expatriates are also enjoying the right to live in other EU countries.
What is also clear, is that Cameron’s EU negotiations have essentially been about trying to appease his opponents within the Conservative party, rather than delivering the reforms that would make the EU work better for both working families and the UK.
If the intention of the Prime Minister was to reform the EU and to get a better deal for Britain, he should have talked to other European leaders about action to stop the spread of low pay and insecure jobs, also ending the undercutting of wage rates and industry-wide agreements through the exploitation of migrant workers.
Instead, his main concern in the talks was to protect his friends in the City of London from financial regulation, including bankers’ bonuses. Here at home, media spin attempted to make us believe that he was ‘getting tough’ on EU immigration by restricting access to the UK welfare benefits system to immigrants.
All Cameron wanted to achieve was a consensus, with the Tories behind him. He wanted to avoid a Conservative Party meltdown, that would, in turn, threaten his own job. Unfortunately for him, he has miserably failed to deliver.
However, the focus on the referendum has shifted even further onto EU immigration and the place of the UK within the world.
Many amongst the most right-wing Tories and UKIP still believe that the UK is a strong nation that could lead the world. They believe that Britain’s influence is undermined by all regulations and others directives that the EU forces upon us. Rule Britannia is back on the cards and the country will be delivered from the oppression of the EU’s commission. This gave birth to an unholy alliance between Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and George Galloway against the EU. But behind this association of egos lies the idea that Great Britain will be great once again, post Brexit. For them, Britain is as strong as India or China but it will be even stronger if the EU workers were to leave the country and the borders closed.
On the other side of the debate, a real pragmatic Conservative Prime Minister flanked by his lackeys that have remained faithful to their leader, David Cameron has urged his supporters to go out and make the case to stay in the EU.
He went on to tackle Gove’s argument that the UK could negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, saying there would be a two-year limbo period during Brexit discussions and then it could take many more years to get agreements actually signed, causing uncertainty for businesses.
Some might argue that the Prime Minister uses scaremongering tactics against the leave camp. However, the Prime Minister is right. If we leave the EU, we will have to renegotiate all our own trade deals with other nations and it could lead to difficult debates, especially with other European countries that would have no obligation to treat us fairly.
In reality, the Tory-Party-Civil-War is fuelled by both the idea of getting rid of David Cameron and by two different visions of what could make Great Britain great again.
On one hand, the Brexit camp considers Britain as a grand nation that must lead the world. On the other hand, the in-voters that see Britain as a land of opportunity for businesses as long it can have access to the EU market. As the referendum approaches, the tensions within the Conservative party are likely to increase to fever pitch. Whichever way the vote goes, it will be extremely difficult to heal the wounds. Cameron’s authority within the party is in terminal decline. As Cameron attempted to present his deal to Parliament, behind him a significant number of his own MPs were shaking their heads and muttering to each other. In this sour atmosphere, Cameron turned to openly mock Boris Johnson, now his most dangerous rival; an indication of the bitter recriminations that threaten to tear the party apart.
What the left has failed to understand over this referendum is the following: which option is less dangerous for the country? We have to choose between two evils. Either we back the Brexit campaign and support the right-wing in their ridiculous and racist vision of Great Britain or we support David Cameron’s vision for a less integrated Europe but still pro-business.
The European Union is not in favour of people. As has been seen in Greece, where governments have tried to challenge EU diktat, the response of their European partners has been simply, “Pay your debts.” The reason for this is as political as it is economic: austerity is non-negotiable, and any resistance to it must be crushed so any other recalcitrant debtors would think twice before challenging the EU economical directives. These are mafia tactics, pure and simple, totally in keeping with today’s mafia capitalism and if we were in a similar situation as the Greeks were during this summer, the best option would be to leave the EU.
But Greece isn’t Great Britain and the question we have to answer is whether we think that UKIP and right-wing MPs are right to say that EU immigrants have to leave the country.
Therefore, a victory of the leave camp will be disastrous for both the Labour Party and the country as it will unleash the most Conservative and right-wing offensive against both EU workers and the country that we have ever seen. It will be an attempt to return to the golden past of the British Empire but without an Empire or the power to have one.
The political consequences of a Brexit would precipitate a breakdown of the UK and open the doors for the Independence of Scotland if the Scots choose to stay in Europe. We will be left alone in a very “small England” against the rest of the world.
The Tories are playing with fire, and could bring the country crashing to its knees. The EU must change and it must be reformed completely, but you can only change something if you stay part of it. Our European brothers and sisters deserve better from us: they deserve us to stay in Europe.