#Brexit is not #Grexit
At the height of the financial crisis, it quickly became a cliché to declare that one’s country was not another. “Spain is not Greece” we’d hear. “Greece is not Ireland.” “Israel is not Spain.” “UK is not Portugal.” “Ireland is not Portugal, nor is it Greece.” Some on the British left may need a reminder of the obvious: Brexit is not Grexit.
The Troika banking coup over the Greek Syriza government this week has prompted leftists of various stripes to call for a left wing campaign for the UK to leave the EU when the government proposes a referendum. The EU, in case you didn’t realise it, is a neoliberal and undemocratic institution wedded to austerity, they dutifully inform us. All it does is impose Friedmanite economic doctrine on the working class and smash any semblance of democracy.
All true, if you’re Greek. And yet I can’t identify a single occasion where it has been the EU which has imposed austerity upon the people of the UK, and not the Westminster government.
Given a choice between leaving the EU and the Euro on the one hand, and submitting to the Troika’s demands on the other, I think I would probably choose to leave or be forced out. I note that the Left Platform and the Syriza Youth have been more willing to risk Grexit by continuing to fight than have the Syriza leadership, but even they aren’t asking to leave the EU. I met many such activists in Athens in January. Their judgement and instincts are sound and I trust them more than I trust those of the left commentariat in the UK.
In the UK our choice, if it comes, won’t occur on the same basis. We aren’t choosing between capitulation and dignity.
For a start, most of the worst parts of the EU would come away with us. Owen Jones says we should leave because of the oncoming disaster that is TTIP, but since the UK relies so heavily on the EU as a trade partner, it’s inconceivable that any government we’re likely to elect would allow any major difference in trade conditions.
We’d be left in the rather more precarious situation of being signed up to TTIP but perhaps not to the European Convention on Human Rights. We’d have freedom of movement for capital but no freedom of movement for workers. We’d rob community peace projects in Belfast of their only source of funding. We’d be left with no way of addressing trans-national issues like climate change other than hard-headed negotiation by our winner-takes-all government. We’d be living under a settlement agreed somewhere between the Tories and UKIP.
I welcome the debate on Europe, because I hope it leads to an invigoration of political debate and a hardening of battle lines. I hope, as I hoped with the Scottish independence referendum, that it will be a debate between two left wing positions. But if that is going to happen, then the left voices on both sides are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than they have so far.