Brexit offers a historic opportunity for democratic and economic renewal. This opportunity is being squandered by Britain’s political class. The Full Brexit will set out radical arguments for a clean break with the European Union. Instead of the conservative nostalgia of the Eurosceptics, our arguments will put the interests of working people – the majority of citizens – at the centre of the case for a democratic Brexit.
In the EU referendum, British voters seized the opportunity to protest against a politics that offers no real alternatives and an economic model that leaves many behind. The Leave campaign’s slogan, “take back control”, resonated with millions of people whose interests are no longer represented in British politics. For this revolt, Leave voters have been slandered as dupes and racists. The Full Brexit stands up for and with the majority of British people: not just Leavers, but also Remain voters who believe the decision must be respected, and for everyone hungry for meaningful political and economic change.
Eurosceptics rightly complain that powerful elite Remainers are conspiring to sabotage Brexit. But this is not the main reason Brexit is adrift. The real cause is that the entire political class lacks any compelling vision of Britain’s future, leaving most British citizens without effective political representation.
Having lost touch with ordinary people, political parties have retreated into European Union policymaking networks. After decades of integration, few politicians, civil servants or academic experts can now imagine any kind of future outside of the EU. Yet Leave campaigners on the right also lack any positive vision. Nostalgic bluster about “Global Britain” has led only to the sterile argument about free trade agreements versus the Single Market and the Customs Union. This wrangling about trade fails to address the problems that led people to reject the EU.
The problems of low investment, stagnant wages and ageing infrastructure that blight our towns and cities require a much more fundamental reconsideration of Britain’s economic and political model. Lacking ideas about how to tackle the deeper problems, politicians on all sides are defaulting to conservative positions, seeking to minimise change, whether through full single market membership or “regulatory alignment”, mostly to defend vested interests like the City of London.
This lack of vision threatens to neutralise Brexit’s potential to renew our political and economic life. EU rules are not neutral: they lock in a set of neoliberal policies that tightly constrain governments’ capacity to innovate, experiment, and tackle voters’ concerns. By preventing practical redress of voters’ grievances, this corrodes representative democracy. Brexit offers a precious opportunity to change this. If this opportunity is squandered, the public will rightly conclude that voting changes nothing. Disengagement and cynicism will intensify and populism – rampant elsewhere in the EU – will surge, threatening what is left of our parliamentary democracy.
A challenge to the logic that “There is No Alternative” is urgently needed, and this must come from the left. The Full Brexit is not a political party. We do not all agree about each and every policy or document on this website. But we do agree, first, that the left’s proper role is to be the architect of a better, more democratic future and, second, that a clean break with the EU is needed to realise that potential.
To this end, we will provide analysis of the present political situation and proposals for the future. We will engage with the public, politicians and anyone who shares our democratic ethos. And we will conduct our work in solidarity with those on the left in other European countries to develop a genuinely internationalist and democratic politics of national sovereignty.
The list of signatures of Full Brexit contains some prominent academics and journalists. It invokes a "democratic ethos" and internationalist "solidarity" and warns against, "disengagement and cynicism" as well as "populism." Somewhat curiously, the very language of the statement is, in fact, populist: it criticizes the "powerful elite" and castigates the whole "political class" without distinction. It speaks on behalf of the "interests of working people," implying strongly that that the elites are a rentier class of leeches. One wonders who will speak on behalf of the children, retired, and (the non-working) disabled?
The manifesto claims to defend "parliamentary democracy" and "representative democracy," but it has explicitly disqualified the status of those who sit in parliament (they are part of the political class, after all) or those who wish for parliament to be the arbiter of policy. If one takes parliamentary democracy (let alone sovereignty) seriously then one should not simply appeal to a (merely binding) referendum as the authentic voice of the people. To elevate referendums as the center of a democratic ethos is to promote a conception of democracy that fails to recognize difficult trade-offs; that reduces democracy to simple, straightforward decisions as opposed to bargaining within constraints. To glorify a referendum is to undermine a democratic ethos, which is a set of dispositions that recognizes no decision is final, and that communal living is not about winners and losers, but joint action, collaboration, and mutual respect even if we disagree about fundamental values.
In addition, it is notable that the manifesto signers claim to worry about slander, and then repeat the routine slander of the EU as a merely technocratic project. But without suggesting that the EU is perfect, or not recognizing that it is often captive to well-organized interests, its rules are made and agreed upon through the representatives of national governments (in the EU Councils and Commission) and national representatives (in the European parliament). It is especially rich to lament the lack of direct control by EU citizens of EU policy, because it has been British opinion-makers that have constantly agitated against increasing anything that may appear as further European integration.
Of course, I know that such manifestos are a funny mixture of compromise and opportunism. But even so, to speak of internationalist solidarity when you both stand for a policy of forced deportations -- let's call a spade a spade, that's what Brexit and Lexit involve* -- and happily pull out of one of the key mechanisms for solidarity,** Left or otherwise, among European nations, is (ahh) cynical.
I am not a British citizen, and unlike others among the European chattering classes, have not lost my fondness for the British. If they want to pursue an experiment in national sovereignty, I wish them well. I find the moment ill-chosen because American policy is withdrawing its security guarantee and is clearly trying to rule by promoting European divisions; Russia has proven its willingness to use military force and gas exports to intimidate its neighbors (including EU members). Britain's true allies, by shared interest, are its European partners.
I also think these self-described Lefties are deluded in a more important fashion: if Britain goes it alone, it will succeed only, I think, by promoting a low wage and low regulation economy (its workers are less educated, its infrastructure less well maintained than its natural rivals) and by being welcoming of the hot money of foreign oligarchs and dictators. That is, by being the enemy of the imperfect, these purportedly lefty intellectuals are playing into the hands of their own purported class enemies--the city of London needs Europe less than worker safety, social security, and environmental regulation do.
*To be sure, yhey propose an offer of citizenship to those EU citizens who were in the UK prior to the referendum. But if these citizens reject citizenship, these 'EU nationals can chose either to become immigrants with the same status as that of non-EU nationals up to now or not to be immigrants at all." But, of course, British policy on immigration is extremely restrictive and involves deportation of folks who have spent a lifetime contributing to British communities. To the best of my knowledge, they are silent on those British citizens who live in the EU, a class of citizens disenfranchised from voting in the referendum.
**Because of the Greek debt crisis, it is now completely unfashionable to think of the EU as a mechanism for European solidarity. But even if we leave aside migration and trade, the EU routinely redirects money from rich to poor regions in the EU. (In my view this should be intensified inside the Eurozone.)