I’m not a great fan of the EU. Virtually all of my life is spent campaigning against its policies. Whether it be big business trade deals like the EU-US trade deal TTIP, the destructive austerity imposed on Greece or inhumane pacts with Turkey to keep refugees out of the richest part of the world, there’s not much to like.
Maybe that’s why I’ve had many good debates over the last two months, where I argue to stay in the EU to transform it into a people’s union, and my ‘opponent’ argues we must recover our sovereignty in order to build a democratic paradise. We stress our common values – internationalism, equality and democracy. With a few exceptions, we agree on nearly every issue.
There have been times over the last year when I could even have been converted to Brexit, most notably as Greece was sent into oblivion by an unelected commission and central bank. The principle reason I haven’t is that I prefer the idea of being a European citizen to being a British subject.
Being European seems to distance me a little from the crimes committed on the world by the British Empire, dissociates me from the petty ‘little England’ superiority that surrounded me growing up, and helps convince me it really is possible for us to collaborate beyond our historical national identity which has repeatedly plunged our continent into war over centuries. It feels like the future, not the past.
But for all that, I understand and respect the idea that only by throwing off this undemocratic structure can we focus on the real battle for a better society in a context that resonates with the majority of people in this country. That a so-called Left Exit (Lexit) might just shake the complacency of a cosmopolitan political and business elite and finally give voice to the people.
And maybe it will. One day. When a progressive British government is halted in its steps in the way Greece was last Summer, then I would conceivably vote Brexit.
But that day is not today. Because an exit from the EU on 23 June would represent possibly the most right-wing exit imaginable. Even a fanatical optimist cannot believe that the values of internationalism and equality will be reinforced by a Brexit in these circumstances.
The last four weeks have witnessed a re-emergence of views on a mass scale that seemed safely assigned to the past. The mainstream campaign to leave the EU has pandered to nationalism, has built a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment and has fostered a notion that outside the EU we can return to an age when Britain was the world’s foremost ‘great power’.
Of course, this has been a deliberate strategy. The leaders of the Brexit campaign are prepared to do anything and say anything to win this referendum. That’s how those who have privatised the NHS pretend Brexit could save it, or those who believe in free movement of labour promise Brexit will end it.
But the biggest vote winner is that fear that’s been used by elites over centuries; fear of ‘the other’. It has kept kings on their thrones, boosted the popularity of failing governments and silenced those who speak for a better world. “Immigrants are taking your jobs, immigrants are flooding your public services, immigrants are raping women, and immigrants are anathema to our superior, tolerant values.”
Many Lexiters have realised this, and said, for these reasons, they’ll vote remain or abstain. My plea is for the rest to join them. This is not to forever remove the possibility of Lexit. After all, in its current guise, the EU is on life support. Across Europe, the structures have lost legitimacy. They have failed to deal with the major problems humanity faces. Their lifespan is limited, and Yanis Vaorufkakis’ challenge to ‘democratise or die’ will only grow in importance in coming years.
But our role must be to convince Britain’s alienated and dispossessed, that the ordinary people of Poland, Greece and France are not our enemies, but our allies in this battle. We will transform or break up this structure together. Much damage has already been done. A remain vote will not solve our problems, but ironically, it is the only way for those who want Lexit to achieve it.