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Exit stage left – why we oppose the EU

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Issue 2505

The European Union (EU) is forcing austerity on people living within its borders and its member states are waging wars outside its borders.

Racism is a cornerstone of the ideology that binds it together in an imperialist project to push the priorities of the ruling class.

This was the message coming out of a busy meeting in central London on Wednesday of last week that called for a left wing, internationalist exit from the EU.

It was organised by Lexit, the Left Leave campaign, bringing together different socialist groups and trade unions.

The EU referendum in Britain represents an opportunity to tear apart the Tory party—and to begin to break up one of the major global capitalist institutions.

Alex Callinicos from the Socialist Workers Party in Britain emphasised this point. “Virtually every major capitalist institution has come out in support of Remain—Lloyds, the Bank of England, the CBI, the list goes on,” he said.


“The EU is one of the most important projects of Western imperialism. Since the late 1940s the United States, which remains the dominant power in global capitalism, has promoted European integration to secure a prosperous and stable junior partner for managing global capitalism.”

The opportunity to strike a blow against such a key tool of the ruling class is one that any serious socialist must grab with both hands. Without a confrontation with the EU, many of the left’s goals and demands are impossible.

Rob Griffiths, general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, said, “Even the kind of policy that John McDonnell is advocating, the idea of People’s Quantitative Easing, that the Bank of England can buy out bonds issued by public sector bodies in order to fund capital investment.

“This is explicitly outlawed by Article 123 on the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union.

The London rally last week

Over 150 attended the London rally last week (Pic: Joseph Choonara)

“Why on earth is he arguing to stay in a setup that would completely outlaw one of the key policies he is hoping to implement?”

One of the great lies of the EU is that it promotes free movement.

The reality is a Fortress Europe of racist borders.

Since the recent deal between the EU and Turkey came into effect just 177 refugees have been allowed into Europe out of 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Joseph Choonara, one of the organisers of the Lexit campaign, spoke from the floor and pushed the point.

“We shouldn’t rely on the EU as any kind of defender against racism or attacks on refugees,” he argued.

“And we should be clear that the logic of Fortress Europe is underpinned by ideologies every bit as nasty as French, British or German nationalism.”

He pointed out that Syrian Kurds are being moved to Turkey, where the government is bombing Kurdish people.

“And if you’re an Afghani or an Eritrean then you simply don’t have refugee status,” he said. “It’s absolutely barbaric and immoral.”

The racism at the heart of the EU has been exposed by its brutal treatment of refugees.

Brid Smith, a recently elected TD to the Irish Dail, underlined, “They’ve pushed tens of thousands of people back into the arms of one of the most despotic regimes in the world.”

And the EU has done nothing to stop the rise of fascism and racism in European countries.


Lindsey German, a leading figure in the anti-war movement, spoke on behalf of Counterfire.

“There are no sanctions at all put on the racist and far right governments in countries such as the Czech Republic, like Slovakia, like Hungary,” she said. “There are sanctions on Greece attacking them over the economic policies.”

David Cameron has asserted, with no evidence whatsoever, that the EU has prevented wars. For him, the war in the former Yugoslavia didn’t happen and the imperialist interventions by EU states across the Middle East don’t count.

German mocked his argument, pointing to the “French colonial war in Algeria” in particular.

The EU has also played a central part in the low-level war which is developing in Ukraine today.

Quim Arrufat from the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) in Catalonia looked beyond the borders of the EU, where the bloc, its members and its allies are wreaking death and destruction.

“They are bombing our brothers and sisters in south-east Turkey and Kurdistan, through Libya, Syria, Palestine and Iraq,” he said. “Avoiding war is something which they have not achieved.”


In Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus the EU has imposed austerity. The European Central Bank is currently demanding £6 billion more cuts from the Spanish state.

Anti-austerity protesters in London burn the EU flag

Anti-austerity protesters in Greece burn the EU flag


People in Greece resoundingly rejected austerity in a referendum in 2015. But the EU demanded a punishing bailout deal anyway.

Callinicos said, “The idea of a progressive Europe has died. It died last summer in Greece, it died when the leaders of the EU treated with contempt the massive vote against austerity and imposed an even more vicious settlement on Greece.”

Smith said, “The EU institutions bailed us out to the tune of 84 billion euros.

“The yearly 9 billion euro interest payments will continue until 2054. People in Ireland will have a huge debt on their shoulders from the time they’re born in Ireland.

“The outcome of that is severe social decline. The minister for finance has described this as ‘picking the low-hanging fruit’. There are special education facilities put into schools to help Travellers—this was cut by 86 percent.”


Trade union leaders should be leading the fightback. Instead, disgracefully, they have lined up with the bosses to defend the EU. Francis O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC has said that “The broader labour movement is united behind the benefits of EU membership for working people.”

But where was the EU when the Tories announced their plans to privatise every single school in Britain, asked Choonara.

“Did the EU turn around and say, no you can’t do that? Absolutely not”, he said.

Trade union leaders have argued that workers should look to the EU to defend their rights and conditions at work.

But Lorraine Douglas, a Unison member speaking in a personal capacity, retorted angrily from the floor.

“If I see one more meme telling me that the EU gave me equal pay I think I might lose my temper”, she said. “For the record, it was the women who struck at Dagenham that won equal pay!”

Those on the left who defend the EU are also defending the Tories from their worst crisis in decades, Callinicos warned.

“If Leave is successful it will take out the two main figures in that government, Cameron and Osborne”, he predicted. “Anyone who thinks that this will lead to a smooth succession of Boris Johnson into Downing Street is kidding themselves.

“An opportunity exists. It’s something that can be taken up across Europe. We can take that opportunity and we have to.”

Argyri Erotokritou from Antarsya, the Greek anticapitalist coalition, said international solidarity was crucial—and that meant confronting the EU.

“The potential Lexit win would show us that we are not alone in this fight like the EU and our government says,” she said. “We can win a workers’ and refugees’ Europe, free from racism, austerity and wars.”

Watch on the web

Socialist Worker has produced a short video of the Lexit meeting in London. To watch it, go to

For videos of the full speeches of all the platform speakers, go to

For more coverage of the EU and the referendum debate, go to

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