Only a few days to go and it’s a tight race. Bookmakers still favour a ‘Remain’ vote but ‘Leave’ is edging ahead in the polls. Politicians from all sides are busy campaigning, this time across traditional political divides. While the infighting in the Tory party has attracted the headlines, the left is also split on the issue. Though his heart is not in it, Jeremy Corbyn has unenthusiastically been campaigning to remain. Last week’s PMQ was a benign affair, with Labour deferring any political differences in favour of a pro-Remain love-in with the PM. But other parts of the left are not playing ball with the establishment and are campaigning to leave.
The traditional left recognises that being a member of EU leaves UK under control of ‘Continental’ thinking on for example labour and environmental regulation, and they applaud the waves of red tape crashing in over Britain from Brussels. Just look at labour protection laws, they say; introduced by the EU, not by a British parliament. A seemingly bizarre argument from people who normally would sign up to democracy, to argue the benefits of an external power imposing legislation that they claim the elected representatives in Westminster would not have introduced. But I digress. Presumably the left also endorses the massive wealth transfer from the rich economies in the North to statist, inflexible Mediterranean economies. The political establishment is also afraid that a vote to leave may trigger Scottish secession.
On the other hand, people like George Galloway and fellow lefties on the Leave side of the debate see Europe as a ‘neo-liberal’ free market advocate, preventing for example government support to the flagging UK steel industry. This is why the trade union vote is much more split on the issue than the parliamentary Labour party, who is heavily in favour of staying in.
While it is true that the original European Coal and Steel Community, which preceded the EU, removed some trade barriers, from the start the European project was about quotas, welfare legislation, economic planning and price fixing. While the EU promotes free movement of people, capital and services and EU competition legislation prevents the more blatant cases of state support for favoured industries, it is clear which side of the left has got the long end of the stick: the EU is not a libertarian free-market experiment, it is a vehicle for bureaucracy, ever increasing regulation and monetary hegemony, which the left should applaud and any freedom loving citizen should want to leave.