While the arguments for and against Brexit are currently framed as a left-right divide, the reality is not so binary. There are left-wingers who voted for Brexit and right-wingers who voted to remain. The cross-over between the two divides muddies the political spectrum somewhat but never receives as much attention as the binary situation does.
A year ago I was at a Compass event on Brexit. A conversation with a fellow participant soon turned into a bruising one, for me. I naively assumed that anyone giving up a Saturday to be there would be a Remainer. Not so.
Brexit is seen as offering political options for aspirations on both sides. The blurring of lines centres around the dream of what a ‘Global Britain’ in the 21st century ought to look like.
The right think that Britain unchained from the regulatory and legal demands of the EU institutions would be free to make and remake a stand-alone capitalist version of Britain. The left see Brexit as a chance to make and remake Britain into a global entity devoid of the current capitalist state traits which they dislike. The uniting consideration of the left and the right is their abhorrence of the EU’s state aid rules.
The right is looking to Brexit as the escape route to do away with workers’ rights and regulation that imposes costs on businesses. The left views Brexit as a means to loosen the current ties on the ownership of private property. The latter point is a Marxian proposition.
Nationalism isn’t just a fetish of the right. The left who support Brexit are, by definition, rejecting the internationalism agenda which has been a mainstay pillar of left wing policy. By not advocating for the continuation of an international and cosmopolitan agenda the alternative would be nation-state nationalism. The left and right, therefore, converge on this point.
The right wing see a British Brexit state as being free to further a neoliberal utopianism vision which will closely replicate Singapore’s model. Ironically, if they are hankering after the days of the Empire this is hardly the way to achieve that. A Britain cut adrift from a bloc (the EU) with huge global influence which becomes a lone power (like Singapore) will not be able to influence the world.
The left wing see the EU as a stumbling block to implementing a socialist Britain. The NHS is THE model which they wish to see replicated in all spheres of British life but along with this comes freedom of movement. The NHS is made up immigrants. By supporting Brexit immigration will be curtailed.
The convergence of the left and right’s opposition to the EU is an extraordinary set of circumstances. Both want Brexit for diametrically opposing reasons. It is a battle within a battle.
Being a left winger I have always thought that the battles of the movement were about eradicating poverty, dealing with climate change etc. Given this, wouldn’t remaining in the EU and pushing for reforms within be the better option? While the EU is a neoliberal project, it is pushing back against the populism sweeping across Europe. Does this fight not require Britain there?
I have a confession to make. I was briefly a Lexiter myself when the Troika was drumming down on Greece’s democracy but it was more a reaction against the EU’s domination than wanting to break free of it.
The EU has been more than complacent in refusing to address its own shortcomings and is paying the price for this. It has only itself to blame for the causation between austerity imposed through its’ lending policies and the rise of populism. But while no challenge is directed against it the EU will continue on the juggernaut neoliberal project that it seeks. Isn’t this a challenge for the left?