Thursday 30 June 2016

Cutting ourselves off from Europe

Stop Press! 26 June 2016

The outcome of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union is a potential disaster for Britain.  Millions of people voted to break a relationship with our most important trading partners without any clear idea of what that would entail. Our country faces two alternatives.

The first, as promoted by Boris Johnson, is that Britain achieves a relationship with the remaining 27 countries as Norway has done (but nothing said of Norway’s acceptance of the free movement of labour!) If the UK does leave the Union and such a relationship can be achieved quickly, there is a chance that a relatively soft landing will be possible, and that some at least of the key economic, social and libertarian safeguards we currently enjoy can be protected.

The alternative, advocated by Michael Gove and the handful of economists who supported Brexit (and, implicitly, by the oligarchs who control the popular press), is that the UK cuts itself off from its privileged access to European markets and seeks bilateral trade access around the World. This is certain to involve a long period of slower growth and lower standards of living as the UK seeks to win back international markets by reducing costs through further public expenditure cuts, seeks new bilateral trade agreements (albeit from a position of weakness) and further shifts the power away from citizens in favour of profit-maximising global companies.

This extreme free market response to Brexit would be a disaster for Britain. The outcome would depend on factors which are outside our control and, even if eventually successful in terms of rebuilding GNP, would lead to even greater inequality and suffering for poorer people and to a further erosion of our democratic rights.

The Radical Party believes that to salvage what it can from the disaster of Brexit, Parliament should immediately resolve to seek a continued close trading relationship with the EU on terms similar to those which apply to Norway (including the free movement of labour). It should propose that, in return for the swift agreement in principle to this arrangement by the EU, the UK will invoke the Lisbon Treaty Clause 50 exit provision promptly, thus minimising the risk of contagion. At the same time, legislation should be passed to incorporate existing EU laws and regulations into British legislation. None of this will salvage the influence and  security that UK enjoys as a member of the Union, but it would protect us from the worst economic, libertarian and social impacts of Brexit and could provide a starting point for  negotiating  membership anew, once the country and its leaders have come back to their senses.

Under the existing electoral system, no one party can build a successful future for our country alone. We must use this shock to build a new politics, involving millions of people who hitherto have stood back from active engagement. We must mobilise, and campaign, and challenge the control of information by the right wing press oligarchs, and break the taboo on electoral alliances, that has stopped progressive minded people who share a desire for greater equality and democracy, and a more open relationship with the rest of the World, from working together. And we must do it now! Over the next weeks, decisions will be taken by a handful of right-wing millionaires in Westminster which may lock our country into a negative relationship with Europe for decades and close the door on the humane, rational and  democratic solutions which we seek for our country. THEY have created this disaster, WE must find the means to put it right.