The future of the left since 1884

A fork in the road

The Green party view of the European Union is that it is a flawed organisation, but that its benefits outweigh the flaws and it is better to stay in and reform it than ditch it altogether.


The Green Party view of the European Union is that it is a flawed organisation, but that its benefits outweigh the flaws and it is better to stay in and reform it than ditch it altogether.

Personally, I fear it is unreformable. From the outset in the 70’s, when the UK agonised about joining, I worried that it was cumbersome, expensive, and undemocratic. And latterly I’ve been horrified too by the deep influence of big business – corporate lobbyists outnumber NGO lobbyists by 15-1. What chance is there of tough progressive action on poverty or the environment?

In the past the EU has brought in some good measures, for example the Directives on Clean Air, which I used to try to hit Boris Johnson over the head with while talking about London’s worsening air pollution. But the problem itself was caused in large part by the EU’s support and encouragement of diesel engines, after pressure from diesel car manufacturers keen to improve their sales. So thank you to the EU for the problem of poisonous air and then for a solution for cleaning it up, sadly too late for those thousands of people who had early deaths and for the children whose lungs will be permanently damaged.

If you read the four Freedoms of the Treaty of Rome, I find it curious that Labour is so pro EU. Those freedoms are: to move capital, products, services and labour freely within the union. To me, it reads like a bosses charter. It’s fundamentally exploitative, bad for small businesses and for traditional ways of working, especially for farming, as we are witnessing in Eastern Europe where agribusinesses are driving out small scale family farms that were using low impact, environmentally friendly practices.

The lack of democracy and unaccountability is staggering. The Council of Ministers operates almost entirely in secret and has the whip hand over the EU parliament on most issues. Tony Benn warned that Britain was signing up for exactly that. He said, “I can think of no body of men outside the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do.” Plus to join the Eurozone, countries had to give up a lot of economic power which means that the EU can strike down the democratic will of nation states. It did with Greece, imposing an even worse package of measures for privatisation and savage cuts than had been rejected by the Greeks in a referendum just the week before.

And then TTIP … The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an example of the EU over reaching badly. The reaction of people in most countries is horror and there has been an EU wide sharing of information to resist it. This is rare because there is no European public to make enough of a fuss for the EU rethink its policies. While we have an EU, I’m pleased that we have Green Members of the European Parliament, who do their best to contain its worst excesses. But this policy work should be done by our national Government who will respond to public pressure. It was the same government that introduced the loathed Poll Tax that also repealed it, responding to the outcry.

It’s true that I’m embarrassed to be linked in any way to some of the people on the Brexit side. I disagree strongly with a lot of their analysis. I don’t want to leave because of fears of immigration. I welcome immigration. It makes the UK a vibrant more interesting place to live. The economy is healthier for it and public services like the NHS would fall over without the hard work of immigrants. Nor do I support the scaremongering over the economy. It’s extremely difficult to predict any outcome with any certainty – there are risks either way.

And I’m angry about the way the referendum campaign has been fought so far. Both sides have talked a great deal of nonsense and used spurious arguments to influence the undecided, of whom there are a lot. Brexit won’t mean we can’t holiday in Europe, nor have visitors and goods travelling both ways, nor an end to cooperation on issues like counter terrorism. It will mean an end to an expensive and unresponsive organisation that puts bankers above workers and power above the health of the people.

Change is challenging. Personally I’m not keen on it at all. But sometimes there’s a fork in the road that can lead to a better future and the referendum is just that.

Finally, Remainers sometimes talk of Brexiters hating the EU, but I don’t hate it, I just despair of it.


Jenny Jones

Baroness Jenny Jones is a Green party member of the House of Lords

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