Home page > 1. IV Online magazine > 2016 > IV496 - May 2016 > Will Britain vote to leave the EU?
Save this article in PDF Print article Printable version


Will Britain vote to leave the EU?

Monday 23 May 2016, by Terry Conway

A referendum on whether or not to stay in the European Union will take place in Britain on June 23. The decision to hold it was a concession made by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to try to placate right-wing Eurosceptics in his own party. As predicted, it is resulting in a carnival of reaction.

The referendum campaign really took off after local and regional elections on May 5, in which Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party generally did well. Those arguing for Brexit, including former London Mayor Boris Johnson, focus on the question of migration, in a deeply xenophobic and racist way.

They made headway in the polls after a ridiculous intervention from Cameron in which he claimed “World War 3” could result from Britain leaving the EU. That sort of catastrophism, quickly followed by Christine Lagarde’s comments on the economic consequences of Britain leaving, made hay for the Brexiters. An exit vote seems not impossible – what a dreadful thought.

It’s not only the Conservatives who have deep divisions on this question, the left is also split.

For Remain there is the left-wing campaign – called Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) - which includes Left Unity and the Greens and some on the left of Labour including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Socialist Resistance supports this campaign. AEIP is about to organise a major tour of public meetings across Britain to put the case. AEIP supports staying in on a totally different basis to the Cameron campaign; for a social Europe, a Europe of the people and arguing for greater democracy. The left wing Fire Brigades Union also voted through a position of ‘stay in Europe to change Europe’ at its national conference in May. [1]

The position being put by Jeremy Corbyn for Labour is very similar. Corbyn spoke powerfully on Saturday evening at a Labour rally in which 3 signed up members of AEIP were on the platform with him, in which he turned his fire on the Cameron government. [2]

The Scottish National Party supports an in vote but from an EU enthusiast position.

For Exit there is the Left Leave campaign — supported by the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Workers’ Party and some other smaller groups — which is known as “Lexit” (Left+exit) [3] while the Committee for a Worker’s International-Socialist Party has its own exit campaign.

It is probably the case that a majority of those that identify with the radical left are supporting exit at this point. Of course they attempt to separate themselves from the xenophobes but are drowned out by them.

It is deeply worrying that some campaigners for Lexit have brushed aside as being of little importance the position of EU nationals living in Britain if there were a vote to leave. In their arguments for Brexit, the SWP wrongly claim that “Almost two thirds of foreign nationals in Britain are from outside the EU and would be unaffected.” In fact a majority of the non-UK citizens living in the UK are from EU countries. [4]

But beyond an argument about numbers, the whole argument here is suffused with complacency. EU nationals living in Britain certainly feel their position is in jeopardy and, given the racist dynamic behind the mainstream Brexit campaign, their success would make the situation worse for all migrants – and those assumed to be m