DiEM25 and the European Parliament election in the UK: A proposal

DiEM25 members are currently debating our collective stance viz. the European Parliament elections in the UK (that, remarkably, may or may not take place). Since 2016, DiEM25 has been on the right side of history regarding Brexit. Our position was the result of a boisterous internal dialogue and a series of all-member votes that have decided our stance. Members have access to our internal Forum where this illuminating debate takes place. To participate, you must first join our movement (please visit our site and click on the Join button). For non-members, my latest contribution to this debate follows:

Fellow DiEMers, dear comrades,

Since the Brexit referendum was called, early on in DiEM25’s life, we have been consistently on the ‘right side of history’.

  • We opposed Brexit on the basis of the radical narrative IN THE EU – AGAINST THIS EU.
  • We were the first to warn voters of the ‘Hotel California’ situation that would ensue if Brexit were to win
  • After Brexit won, we sensibly proposed a Norway+ arrangement for an indefinite period (of minimum 5 years) so that, first, we respect the verdict of the people while, at once, eliminating all the economic and social costs of Brexit. For a country almost evenly split between Remain and Leave, that was the only sensible solution. A solution that would maintain the UK as close as possible to the EU thus giving the people of Britain an opportunity to debate amongst themselves, in the fullness of time and without a ticking clock, both the UK’s constitutional arrangements and its relationship with the EU in the longer term. Opposing the idea of a divisive second referendum during the Article 50 process, we supported a future referendum, to follow a full and proper People’s Debate, that would decide, after 2022, whether the UK wanted to stay in Norway+, exit the Single Market and Customs Union altogether, or re-enter the EU.
  • When Theresa May adopted her hardline rhetoric but fell into the trap of a negotiation that was doomed, we were the ones who, from the very beginning, exposed Theresa May’s colossal negotiating errors – and called upon her to adopt our Norway+ proposal.

At every step of the way, we proceeded with clarity and internal democracy. Our Forum was always active, our DSCs, NCs and CC in the UK and beyond discussed Brexit incessantly and, most importantly, our pivotal strategic decisions were made on the basis of all-member votes.

As 2018 was drawing to an end, we voted overwhelmingly to begin a campaign to extend Article 50, seeing that PM May was heading for the rocks before the year’s end. The purpose of that extension was to create the space of time necessary for the singularly cathartic general election. [Time was simply insufficient to hold the People’s Debate that ought to precede another referendum. Only a general election could have cleared the air and justified a long extension to Article 50.]

History proved us right: This Tory government is prepared to let the country suffer in the interests of clinging on to a powerless office. Alas, the Tories’ tenacity at holding on to their offices outweighed their internal strife. The result is that Mrs May is still PM and Brexit is stalled. So much so that we are now heading blindly toward a European Parliament (EP) election in the UK under extraordinary circumstances: No one knows whether they will be held for sure and no one knows for how long the elected MEPs will be sitting the European Parliament.

Given that (for better or for worse) the last people’s vote obliged the political establishment to take Britain out of the EU, as well as the perfect uncertainty about the EP elections will be held, it is hard to make a case that these EP elections are legitimate. Already, the EP elections are being hijacked by the extreme Leavers (who want the UK to crash out of the EU) and the extreme Remainers (who want the UK to crash back into an unreformed EU run by smug bureaucrats). Both extremes are striving to turns the EP elections into a second referendum. This is intolerable because it is such a violation of basic, democratic process; and not just because it is the perfect vehicle for Nigel Farage and the extreme right.

And here comes our dilemma as DiEMers.

Each and every one of us would have relished the opportunity to campaign in the UK as we do in Germany, in Greece, in France, in Denmark etc. under the banner of our EUROPEAN SPRING. What could be better? We would love to take our Green New Deal up and down England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would have been splendid to cultivate our links with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party as well as Caroline Lucas’ Greens and have DiEMers play a leading role in the campaign. However, this is not the kind of election that suits either our principles or our goals.

Firstly, it is an illegitimate election. I could not for the life of me look a progressive leaver in the eye and answer the question: “What right do you have to ask for my vote in an election that the majority of the people voted not to have?” Secondly, it is an election that reduces seriously the chances of a Corbyn government – for the simple reason that it offers Blairite Hard Remainers within the party the perfect opportunity to antagonise progressive leavers in order to pull the rug from under Jeremy’s valiant efforts to unite progressive leavers and progressive Remainers. If these efforts are undermined, Britain will continue to be ruled either by a Tory government that pushes for a hard Brexit or a post-Corbyn Blairite government which would be music to the ears of the EU establishment that DiEM25 was founded to oppose and which, through its universal austerity policies, is feeding the beast of xenophobic Euroscepticism everywhere in Europe.

For these reasons I believe that our enthusiastic campaigning in this EP election (if it takes place) would be a mistake. But, at the same time, if these elections are to take place, we cannot afford to sit idly by either. So, what should we do? Here is a suggestion:

Noting that our original European New Deal was put together with a view to being applicable not only for EU countries but also for non-EU ones, our Green New Deal can be calibrated in a way that it applies to the UK independently of the Brexit process/outcome. The people of Britain do not know this. They have been led to believe that either they are in the EU, in which case they must toe the line, or they are outside the EU, in which case they are on their own. Either they are in the European Parliament, in which case a paneuropean Green New Deal affects them, or they are not.

Nothing is further from reality. As DiEM25’s European New Deal explained two years ago, implementing a Green New Deal across the EU and in the UK can be done independently of Brexit. Indeed, we have gone to great lengths to show how 5% of Europe’s GDP can be channelled to green investments by an alliance of UK and EU institutions. Similarly with our proposals for fighting poverty, tax evasion, setting up a Universal Basic Dividend etc.

My proposal is, therefore, the following: Over the next week or so, the CC undertakes to put forward a variant of our European Green New Deal in the form of a UK Agenda for Europe (UKAfE) – an agenda that is independent of PM May’s dog’s Brexit of a process. Once this is in place, DiEM25 UK must campaign up and down the country to bring progressive Leavers and Remainers around this UKAfE. Instead of campaigning in a toxic election, we should be intervening with a campaign for UKAfE – for a UK that is central in Europe’s Green New Deal regardless of the shenanigans of the two extremes battling it out in the EP elections. [Hopefully, the leadership of the Labour Party will see the value in our campaign and, perhaps, adopt DiEM’s UKAfE as its own.]

In conclusion, what matters more than anything now is that DiEM25 helps free UK politics from the toxins of Brexit. Campaigning in this toxic election, in favour of particular candidates is not going to make much of a difference. Our voices will be lost in the cacophony generated by the extremes of the Brexit debate in an election that should never have been held (at least not in this manner). But, a campaign that opens the eyes of UK’s progressives to the possibility that the UK remains central in Europe under a Corbyn government on the basis of DiEM25’s Green New Deal and its associated UKAfE? Now that would – or could – make a difference!

In short, my proposal is that we play no direct role in the EP election campaign as such, lambasting Mrs May and the Tories for denigrating what should be a celebration of democracy. And that, at the very same time, we campaign across the UK for our Green New Deal and its UK equivalent – the UKAfE.