Proponents of Brexit implore British voters to reclaim their democracy by voting to ‘leave’ the EU. On the day he announced his support for Brexit, Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor, based his announcement on the (correct, in my view) judgment that the EU lacks “proper democratic controls”.
Last July the European Union completed a brutal coup d’état against the freshly elected Greek government, imposing upon it another huge, unsustainable ‘bailout’ loan that would, with mathematical precision, prolong Greece’s six-year-long Great Depression.
If there was ever any doubt that the EU’s institutions are deeply contemptuous of democratic process, and unabashed about their readiness to ride roughshod over rationality and over the will of a sovereign European people, the events of July 2015 dispelled it.
In this light, it is natural and right to ask two questions in the run up to the 23rd June UK referendum:
- Was the treatment of Greece last summer not another piece of decisive evidence that the EU is governed in an authoritarian, irrational and anti-democratic manner?
- Should voters across the UK (especially after the way Greece was treated last summer) not vote in favour of LEAVE as an important step in reclaiming their Parliament’s sovereignty and their democracy?
My answer to the first question is a decisive YES and to the second an unequivocal NO!
There are two reasons why the accumulating evidence of the EU’s irrationality and authoritarianism does not strengthen the argument in favour of LEAVE.
First reason: Sovereignty cannot be reclaimed while remaining in Europe’s Single Market
Brexit’s supporters argue that Britain is better off outside of the straitjacket of the EU’s legislative process while remaining within the Single Market. This is an objective at odds with the aspiration to reclaim the British Parliament’s sovereignty.
The Single Market is not the same as a free trade area lacking tariffs and quotas. It also involves three crucial elements: Common industry standards, common labour protection rules, and common environmental protection rules. Additionally, it requires a common legislative process to produce the legislation in support of these three common elements, an executive to implement them and a judiciary to try cases when these common rules are violated. In short, a Single Market requires all three of Montesquieu’s powers (legislative, executive and judicial) that make up a common sovereignty and a single jurisdiction.
Put differently, EU critics are correct to say that, under the present arrangements (prior to any Brexit), Britain’s government (and, indirectly, the Houses of Parliament) maintains a frustratingly tenuous influence over the EU’s decisions that determine much of Britain’s economic and social life. This is, indeed, highly imperfect and inconsistent (as Brexit’s supporters argue) with full sovereignty of the House of Commons.
However, as long as Britain remains in the Single Market, Brexit will remove even this tenuous influence. Voting to LEAVE the EU (but to stay in the Single Market) is the equivalent of submitting fully to an utterly alien (Brussels-based) jurisdiction that ignores Britain’s Parliament, government and judiciary.
In conclusion, Britain should leave the EU only if ready to exit also the Single Market as well, with a credible plan to re-configure its economy on the basis of some autarkic model that is almost impossible to imagine. No notion is more fanciful than the idea that British democratic sovereignty can be reclaimed through Brexit while Britain stays in the Single Market.
It is in this sense that, to reclaim its democracy, Britain should vote to STAY in the EU in order to confront the EU institutions from within. The operative words here being: ‘confront’ and ‘within’.
Our Greek government attempted to do this in the spring of 2015 – to confront from within the EU’s inane policies and its contempt for democratic process. By July 2015 we were crushed by bank closures and monetary asphyxiation. British democrats, like democrats everywhere, were incensed. But this should not lead them to the lazy conclusion that Brexit is the answer.
Second reason: Brexit will make the EU’s fragmentation faster and surer, begetting a post-modern 1930s from which the UK will not escape even if out of the EU
As an outside observer of the developing Brexit debate, I am often struck by a false assumption made by both sides of the Brexit debate: the assumption that the EU is an ‘exogenous given’.
Both sides of the debate argue as if the EU is ‘constant’, ‘out there’, on the Channel’s other side, and that its solidity and constancy is independent of what British voters choose on 23rd June.
Both sides of the debate couch their claims on the basis of whether this ‘exogenous’ EU is something the British public should or should not want the UK to be part of.
Neither side seems aware of (or willing to allude to) the fact that the EU is disintegrating as we speak. That, under the weight of its own hubris, the EU is falling apart, with new divisions, new economic divergence, and new centrifugal forces tearing the Union apart. Indeed, neither side acknowledges the obvious fact that a vote to LEAVE the EU will speed up the EU’s disintegration. And neither side offers any analysis of what such disintegration will mean for Britain.
My view is that Brexit will, inexorably, cause ruptures in the EU that will lead to the Union’s effective dismantling. Will this serve the purposes of Brexit’s supporters? Will Britain be better of after the EU collapses? I do not believe it will. While undoubtedly many EU critics will get some satisfaction watching the EU’s unloved institutions collapse, they (along with the rest of us) will soon be consumed by the frightful vortex of the EU’s sinking vessel.
To begin with, a new fault line will develop along the river Rhine and across the Alps, separating:
(i) a new Deutsch Mark zone (that will include Germany, the Netherlands, part of Belgium, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltics and Finland) mired in deep deflation – as a result of the fast appreciating new Deutsch Mark
(ii) a stagflationary Latin (dis-) Union (spanning France, Spain, Portugal and Italy) where currency(ies) devalue precipitously, spearheading runaway inflation with high unemployment.
Simultaneously, a second fault line will divide Eastern from Western Europe, with ultra-nationalism, toxic social conservatism and a beggar-thy-neighbour migration & economic policy mind-set taking hold in the East and making its way West-ward (boosting the chance of politicians like Marine Le Pen).
From an economic point of view, these developments will deprive Britain of a large share of its export markets, push the City of London into a deleveraging mode not seen since 2008 and, worse still, reinforce the already negative global developments in the US and the emerging markets (as the EU represents the world’s largest economic bloc) that will impose nasty secondary effects upon the UK.
From a political point of view, these same developments will create a European hinterland inimical to the values that British democrats cherish and hostile to a democratic Britain.
In summary, British voters should not err into thinking that their 23rd June decision will leave the EU more or less ‘constant’. Their vote to LEAVE will devastate the ‘environment’ within which a newly ‘emancipated’ UK must work and live.
Those of us who detest the EU’s way of doing things have a moral and political duty to (a) jettison the illusion that Brexit will have positive consequences and (b) stick together (across national borders) to fight shoulder-to-shoulder in order to democratise the EU through an almighty confrontation with its current, inane, authoritarian rulers.
Last year, we tried to do this in Greece. Our Greek government stood up to the combined might of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to demand common sense changes to their modus vivendi. We were crushed in a manner that made the stomach of every democrat churn. But this is no reason not to try again, especially given that the alternative (i.e. the EU’s disintegration, which will be sped up by Brexit) will only produce a post-modern 1930s. This is why many of us, from across Europe and including Britain, have come together to form the Democracy in Europe Movement – DiEM25.
Returning to the lessons Greece has for British voters facing the 23rd June choice, it is important to remember this: Britain is not Greece! Britain is a powerful country uniquely capable, due to its long democratic tradition (that is respected by both sides of Britain’s politics), to confront the EU’s anti-democratic decision-making processes.
To do this, on 23rd June the British public must shun the lazy choice of LEAVE. They must vote STAY and work, from 24th June onwards, towards electing a government that can bring about the changes the EU must undergo on behalf of its peoples.
Britain needs a government that no longer sees the EU as a necessary evil from which to extract short-term, pecuniary benefits (while eschewing all the ‘bits’ that London does not like).
Britain deserves a government that stops attending the various Brussels decision-making outfits like a university friend of mine who used to go to parties only so as to have something to bitch about the following morning.
Britain needs to join the rest of us on the other side of the Channel in the only fight that is worth having: the struggle to democratise the European Union.