Socialist Worker

Don’t abandon the EU referendum to the racists

Should the anti-EU left campaign to leave or hold their tongues? Dave Sewell argues we have to stick to our principles

Issue No. 2505

Paul Mason argues the time is not right to leave the EU

Paul Mason argues the time is not right to leave the EU

Many of the left recognise the anti-worker, anti-refugee, undemocratic rottenness of the European Union (EU) but plan to vote for it anyway—at least “for now”.

Guardian columnist Paul Mason made one of the most explicit cases for this position last week, arguing for “Brexit (one day)”. He wrote that the EU “is not—and cannot become—a democracy”.

It proved it could “crush the left wing government of Greece”. It “subordinated workers’ right to strike to an employer’s right to do business”. It makes austerity and the “economic principles of the Thatcher era” a “non-negotiable obligation”.

All that is apparently cancelled out by, “In two words—Boris Johnson.”

The racist Tory right and Ukip, not the left, brought up the debate on the EU. They, not us, are the most visible face of “Brexit”.


That much is true, but it doesn’t follow that they would be the ones to benefit—or that they could do more damage without the EU’s “constraints”.

The biggest beneficiary so far of the Tories’ EU splits has been Jeremy Corbyn. Some recent polls suggest that if a new election was called, he could become prime minister.

Johnson is a vile bigot—but so is David Cameron. The EU hasn’t held him back from wreaking misery upon the poor and viciously attacking workers through the Trade Union Act. But the Tories’ divisions have held him back to an extent.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan and health secretary Jeremy Hunt have been left isolated and defensive against teachers and doctors. The vicious welfare reforms that were once the Tories’ flagship policy are in chaos after Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.

The Tory manifesto was full of attacks that haven’t made it into the queen’s speech.

As the Daily Mirror newspaper’s editorial noted, “David Cameron is so anxious to avoid creating fresh controversy within his party ahead of the June 23 poll that he has been forced to limit the damage inflicted on working people.”


The chaos in the Tory party would only deepen if Cameron lost the referendum. A new leadership election would be bitter and damaging to the government.

Many argue that a Leave vote now would boost racism and xenophobia. But that would be a risk at any point.

Allowing racists to dominate the Leave campaign by refusing to intervene is a recipe for disaster.

And strengthening Cameron and Fortress Europe won’t help that fight.

Telling people that the choice is between Cameron, the EU and the bosses on one hand or Farage and the racists on the other is dangerously counterproductive.

Far from isolating the Eurosceptic right, it risks driving those workers who can’t stomach toeing the Remain line into their arms.

Mason says it will be right to confront the EU “when you have a Labour government, and the EU is resisting it”.

But the EU is on the attack now—enforcing cuts, negotiating TTIP and repressing refugees. And every argument used to defend it today will make it harder to argue against it tomorrow.

EU leaders are terrified of the double crisis they face this summer, with both Britain’s referendum and a new standoff with Greece. If the left helps them through it the opportunity may not return.

When your tactics seem to contradict your principles it’s usually time for a rethink.

If you agree that the EU is a bosses’ club and a racist Fortress Europe, you should vote to Leave it.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.