Two years after the referendum, how far are we along the path to freeing ourselves from the EU, taking control and striking out for a truly independent nation?
Referendums are the best expressions we have of real democracy, government by the people. In 2016 every individual was asked what they wanted, yes or no to the EU. People approached the question, and the democratic manner in which it was being asked, straightforwardly because they came out and voted. The decision must be carried out.
Yet now we find politicians taking an infuriatingly slow and halting approach to leaving. And with every pause and concession the EU becomes even more aggressive, intransigent and insulting.
Britain is treated as a security risk that can’t be trusted with data from the Galileo satellite navigation system (developed with British knowhow and money – see EU space blackmail). The EU won’t even allow air traffic organisations to discuss how to keep planes in the air after Britain leaves should there be no Brexit deal (see EU tries aviation blackmail). Brussels says it can’t bend “the rules”. But it has only one rule: to make it as hard as possible for any country to leave its coercive club.
The government will not negotiate terms in the spirit of the referendum result. Home Secretary Amber Rudd was planning to water down border controls after Brexit in a “labour mobility partnership” before she resigned.
We have the prospect of giving way on leaving the EU customs union – the so-called “hybrid option”. And then there’s the “huge obstacle” created over the eminently solvable issue of the Irish border.
Those who want to stop Brexit show contempt for democracy, and contempt for the people. They also show the deep lack of self-confidence in Britain’s establishment circles. They assume we are weak and the EU is strong, while the reverse is true.
They say the margin of victory was insignificant. No. It was clear. 17.4 million voted to leave – numerically the largest vote for anything or anyone in Britain.
They say people didn’t understand what they were voting for or were led astray by Leaver lies. Actually, research by Rob Ford, professor of political science at Manchester University, shows that people made up their own minds, relatively unaffected by the campaigns. And they didn’t trust what politicians from either side said.
‘They assume we are weak and the EU is strong. The reverse is true.’
They sneer at the 17.4 million. We are a mix of racists and xenophobes (a desire to exert national control couldn’t be anything else could it?). We’re little Englanders (even the Welsh apparently), and “populists” – an insult for those who won’t support corrupt governments. We’re stupid and unthinking (if we weren’t we would have listened the Project Fear of Osborne, Cameron and their establishment friends). We didn’t know what was good for us – how could Cornwall and Wales be so in favour of leaving when the charitable EU had given them so much grant money? Perhaps because they remembered it was our money in the first place.
Remainers say the referendum wasn’t valid because it bypassed parliament – and MPs know better what is good for us. MPs are fond of defining democracy as the supremacy of parliament. So now they pit parliament against the people.
Yet for years MPs nodded through EU diktats without debate in the form of parliamentary secondary legislation. These self-styled democrats want to see parliament become a regional council under orders from the EU. They say if we had another chance to vote, there would be a different decision. In fact poll after poll shows that however they voted most people now just want to get on with it.
Instead of leaving cleanly in March 2019 we are now to suffer a woeful “transition” or “implementation” period (implementation of what, if nothing is agreed?). So no real leaving until the end of 2020, if then.
The red lines for Brexit must remain: control of our borders, economy, trade, laws and money. Having decided to take control at last, we must not hand it back to the EU.
What independence means
In the fog of negotiations a negative line of thought has emerged – the call for “free trade” after Brexit. Trading independently with other countries across the world on a mutually beneficial basis is nothing to do with so-called “free trade”, which is free only for capitalism.
The free trade lobby wants to revive the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP, where international capitalism will be given a free ride whatever the cost to our economy. This is the opposite of taking control.
Instead of planning what we can do here, free marketeers say just import as cheaply as possible from elsewhere – be it people, goods, energy, food, transport.
Thatcher said “There is no such thing as society.” Well, she’s dead and gone. Taking control means an end to her dead spirit. Capitalism has refused to invest in our most valuable resources, especially our people.
This must change. We must talk about taking control, not taking back control, because we never had it in the first place. Now we have the chance to assert it. We must ensure control by the people for the people.
For instance, we know that fishing is an essential resource for our island nation, a resource which has been largely handed over to the EU. Time to seize it back as a central part of our future economy and for a healthy life.
The knowledge needed to plan an economy resides in the people – regardless of how they voted in the referendum. Drop those old divisions. Together we can look forward and plan for the future.
Investment in the young is a test of the health of an economy – they are the future. During our membership of the EU we have had zero hours, the “gig economy”, landlords fleecing young tenants, debt, sky high house prices driven by complete lack of regulation and national control of the housing market, all fuelled by hundreds of thousands of young people flocking every year to Britain from elsewhere in the EU since 2004. All are a testament to the utter failure of the “free market” in Britain and most of the rest of Europe.
Our country is in a bad way. The social and legal structures required for a civilised society have been or are being dismantled, as cuts and privatisation force us into the arms of the market.
There’s a great deal to do. Brexit enables the people to make Britain different and far better. But it won’t fall into our lap. We must decide to do it. And it certainly won’t happen if we wait for it to be directed from above.
Of course we need new skills. But we must recognise that there has been a concerted deskilling – with many employers jettisoning skilled workers while failing to invest in the training and machinery a modern economy needs. This is not new – and isn’t only due to the EU – but it’s now made much worse by employers grabbing full advantage of an infinite supply of cheap labour from abroad, particularly from the EU.
And it’s not just a low skill problem. Talk of attracting “the brightest and the best” from abroad exploits those countries which are losing their skilled workers to a Britain unwilling to invest in training and upskilling our own people.
The NHS, for example, operates a corrupt system which steals trained health staff from abroad while doing its best to deter our own young people from training by loading them with debt. And where they do train, they work in tough conditions on low pay.
If it’s cheaper to import – whether brains or goods – that’s what the employers will do if they can get away with it.
The lie that nations and their peoples can’t match up to the tasks and provide for their own future is at the heart of the EU project. Open borders and uncontrolled immigration make it impossible to plan a future – both here and in the countries enduring widespread emigration of their peoples.
When we are united, we are strong. Remember how we defeated the push to join the euro? Despite heavy pressure, it was impossible to force through in the teeth of popular opposition, including some prominent people in the government.
Fishermen and their coastal communities from northern Scotland to southern England have built a strong movement for a clean Brexit in spite of their relatively small numbers – because people at large see their importance.
The popular desire to take control has been no thanks to our trade unions. With honourable exceptions such as the RMT, the unions mostly ignored the anti-trade union record of the EU and either stayed on the fence or shamefully encouraged members to vote Remain. Advice which most of their members ignored.
There is still much to do to bring the focus back on the founding aims of British trade unions – the fight to maintain and improve pay and conditions in the workplace – an essential aspect of taking control. But first the members themselves must take control of their own unions.
Populism has come to be a term of abuse. Why? There is acute fear of the ideas of the people. Any movement which rejects the establishment view is treated with fear and hostility. They do not trust the people to make intelligent choices.
But there is nothing wrong with speaking in defence of your country, its people, its history and its democracy.
‘Populism has come to be a term of abuse. Why?’
There is no such thing as a citizen of a country without borders – you become subject to laws and powers that can’t be held to account. That is undemocratic. Without national sovereignty, we can’t take control and will be ruled by “the market”.
Only sovereign nations, not blocs, can be a force for peace. Yet some who condemn the EU say at least it has kept the peace. Not true – look at the Balkans, Ukraine, the Middle East. And now its drive to increasing centralisation and an EU army enables it to represent US interests in Europe even more efficiently.
Leaving the EU will not by itself lead to independence, but unless we leave we cannot achieve it. Once we leave we can decide on these matters for ourselves. We must take responsibility for our vote for change and make sure we carry it through.
We need not be despondent. We should be full of cautious optimism. Our decision to leave, combined with determination to see it through, can be a huge step forward.
Embrace the change we decided to make! Seize the opportunity for democratic renewal! Take control for an independent Britain!
• This article is adapted from a speech given at the CPBML May Day rally in London in on 1 May 2018.