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Yanis Varoufakis has appealed for the UK to remain in the European Union because leaving would hasten the disintegration of the 28-nation bloc. The former Greek finance minister made the call at a Guardian live debate in Westminster on Thursday night.
In the debate on Europe chaired by Guardian co-political editor Heather Stewart, Varoufakis described the EU as being in a “disgraceful state” and a “disintegrating mess”, but he argued that tearing it up would not be the solution.
Pro-Brexit Tory politicians such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove want the UK to remain in the European single market even if voters do opt to leave the EU in the 23 June referendum, he told the audience. However, that would allow Brussels to retain sovereignty over many regulations affecting Britain. “That would be a halfway house that is the worst of all possible worlds,” Varoufakis said.
Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, who was also on the panel at the debate, called for reform of the EU. Although the debate about Europe was often “muddled and lazy”, Lucas argued that Brexit was not the solution: “We need to stay in Europe to change Europe.” She is a supporter ofVaroufakis’s pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to bring together leftwing parties, grassroots protest movements and “rebel regions” from across the continent.
Varoufakis told the audience that progressives across Europe needed to band together to stabilise the continent and help fight the rise of far-right parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece. If the UK left the EU, it “would make a bad thing far, far worse”, he argued. “Monsters don’t have to win elections to be in power.”
He and Lucas clashed with the other panellist, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, who called the EU a “machine for neoliberal capitalism” and said that a UK departure would not result in economic chaos. He dismissed Varoufakis’s belief that electing progressive governments across Europe that could spur reform of the EU and blamed the bloc for the rise of the far right in countries such as Germany and France.
Despite rising xenophobia across the continent, Ali denied Varoufakis’s suggestion that fascism was a serious threat in Europe: “It’s cuckooland.” Ali suggested that a vote for Brexit could split the Conservative party to an unprecedented degree. If that was the price to pay for a UK departure from Europe, he said: “I wouldn’t be too upset.” However, Varoufakis dismissed that suggestion, insisting that not even an issue such as Brexit would divide the Tories.
Lucas said the best chance of reining in the worst excesses of capitalism remained at the European level given the support for restrictions on bankers’ bonuses and higher taxes on bank profits. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” the former MEP said.
Varoufakis’s new book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability, was published on Thursday. The economist signed copies after the debate, held at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster.