openDemocracyUK

Change of some kind is coming either way, but a vote to leave would empower Europe's far right

Britain shapes and is shaped by Europe. Let's not pretend otherwise.

Niki Seth-Smith
10 June 2016
Golden_Dawn_members_at_rally_in_Athens_2015.jpg

Golden Dawn, Wikimedia Commons, by DTRocks

I’ve pinned down the core reason why I’m for Britain remaining in the EU. It’s not because I want things to stay the same, but that I’m sure that, even with a Remain vote, there will soon be radical change in the UK and Europe.

I understand the importance of democracy and national sovereignty – I lived in Scotland and voted in favour of Scottish independence. I’m not blinded by the economists, the banks, the IMF, the entire establishment foretelling doom – it's not only their track record, we know that their idea of a ‘successful UK’ has nothing to do with ordinary people.

I now live in Greece and see daily the seemingly endless destruction and waste of life and hope caused at the hands of the EU, like I saw the depths of institutional corruption during the incredible ‘negotiations’.

So I agree with much of the Brexit argument from principle, as well as a lot of the analysis. Ultimately where we differ is that – ironically for people who claim to want change – those in favour of Brexit don’t seem to be able to imagine the kinds of radical changes that are coming, whichever way we vote.

It’s not that we’re so hugely important. It’s that these are pivotal times.

We know Europe is polarising: nationalism, eurosceptism and the far right are on the rise, as are parties of the 'radical' left, who largely still urge for a reformed EU. Which trend would Brexit be part of? Given that the EU will be hugely transformed in the coming years, and the euro is unlikely to exist, how will a UK on the outside shape and be shaped by this process (as it still will be, of course)?

In other words, what happens in the years after a Brexit vote not only affects the UK but the future of Europe and the world. It’s not that we’re so hugely important. It’s that these are pivotal times.

It’s frankly weird that people on the left are talking about a possible victory for Labour or a left coalition in the medium future, and what they could do in a UK outside of the EU, as if the decade between (let’s be real) isn’t enough time to alter the very soul of the country, as Thatcher proved.

You could say that the Conservatives have already begun a wholesale transformation – what difference is a neoliberal paradise for the rich built under Cameron and aided by Merkel et al, than one built by Boris Johnson going it alone?

But this shows a deadly lack of imagination. Too many British people on the left and right seem to consider the UK exceptional and immune to ‘extreme’ politics, even though we are the country that has attempted to re-shape the EU in our own image – that of the extreme ideology of neoliberalism. Our media and politicians are straining at the leash to stoke the fires of racism still further, and we’ve seen what they’ve been able to do in the recent few short months.

But this isn’t scare-mongering or a plea not to ‘jump into the unknown’. I have an idea of the direction the UK might take post-Brexit, perhaps eventually without Scotland. What happens to Britain after a Remain vote is in many ways much more of an open book. I can understand the frustration of the left, and the genuinely anti-establishment right in the UK, who see no end in sight to the elite stitch up and just want to shake things up, thinking anything’s better.

I just don’t think that’s true. In the EU, there are many factors at play: it’s impossible to say yet what the governments of the other 27 member states will manage to do over the coming years, or what their peoples might achieve. It seems certain not all countries will remain. Corbyn won’t win, but Labour may give way to another party of the left or become unrecognisable. It could be a decade defined by terrorism and conflict. We might even finally accept our fair share, or more, of refugees.

Much could happen. It’s big risk and big opportunity either way. But let’s recognise we have allies amongst the governments and peoples of Europe. The alternative is to hand Britain on a plate to the ‘rogue’ Tories, allowing them to claim that their nationalistic, anti-public, pro-exploitation, ultimately racist agenda has been fully legitimised by us, while pretending that we don’t know what they’ll do.

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