What is Lexit?
Lexit was a rhetorical term used to deliberately distance people who wanted Britain to leave the European Union but didn’t want to be identified with right-wing Brexit narratives around immigration or nationalism. The Left Leave campaign has a simple explanatory page here.
I had no formal role in the Lexit campaign and I have not studied or understood Lexit economic theory, so I need to be clear that I am not someone to ask detailed questions about the economic implications of Britain’s membership of the EU from a left perspective. For that I have to direct you to my friend and flatmate, Reuben Bard-Rosenberg, who also runs Red Brexit. My concerns lie with the democratic deficit of the European Union, and that is the perspective from which I write.
I believe we should remain part of the single market and freedom of movement, either through a bespoke deal or through membership of the European Economic Area. I believe that under those circumstances, the economic consequences to the UK as a result of leaving the European Union will be minimal and what price there is to be paid will be worth paying.
My opposition to the European Union started shortly after 1997 when the BS EN3 European standard on fire extinguishers come in effect. I’m not that much of a geek that at the age of eight I was following developments in European health and safety standards, but I did notice that my school’s fire extinguishers had all turned red for some reason and I wanted to know why. Prior to the implementation of this standard, Britain had different colours for different types of fire extinguisher – red for water, cream for powder, black for CO2, etc. The idea being that someone picking up a red fire extinguisher would know that it contained water and wouldn’t, for example, use it on an electrical fire and make everything immeasurably worse. Apparently most other European countries didn’t make this rather sensible distinction and so in 1997, forced us to conform our fire extinguishers to make them all irrespective of contents a nice, uniform, European, red.
Eight year old me was furious. Not just because of the top-down approach to something as minor as the colour of our fire extinguishers, which was petty, but because as far as I was concerned, it was dangerous. It seemed to me that someone, somewhere, either not aware of this change or not aware that some fire extinguishers do not contain water, had used the wrong fire extinguisher on the wrong kind of fire and had hurt themselves. My opposition to the EU started that day.
It’s an unusual path into euroskepticism, I know, but that’s how it turned out. I had a brief two year period when I was persuaded that as someone of left-wing politics, I should always support unionism as a matter of principle, until my defiantly Lexit flatmate made me realise that actually, the intention and direction of that union is rather important. I satisfied myself that we wouldn’t actually enter an apocalyptic economic crash that would destroy our standards of living for a generation (courtesy of the Economist), and decided to vote Leave. I made my decision in March 2016 and I’ve never wavered since, though I’ve certainly wobbled.
So for me, whether we should be part of the EU or not has never been about immigration or economic benefit, but the fact that sometimes, you can just wake up and discover that some political elite called “Europe” that you may or may not have elected (“The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) are two distinct private international non-profit organizations based in Brussels”), has decided that some aspect of your life needs changing, and what it needs changing to is not necessarily what is best for you as a citizen but what works best for the businesses and institutions that know who these bodies are and how to lobby them, and have the resources to do so. And we’ll let it go by because who is going to dedicate themselves to challenging the colour of our fire extinguishers? Or indeed any of the thousands of other minor laws, regulations and directives that “Europe” pours out every year? Some of them do indeed benefit us, but some of them don’t and either way, our national representatives who contribute to the work of these groups are one voice among many (in the case of the CEN, one among 33 national standard bodies and 60,000 other “experts”) and the people who represent us are sufficiently insulated from any kind of democratic blowback that they can sign off on whatever they want without consequence. I have a serious problem with that.
When I sat down to work out how I wanted to vote in the last two European elections, I basically had a choice between people committed to ever closer union, which I absolutely didn’t want, or racists. I ended up voting English Democrat in the first (who lost their deposits) and Green in the second (to mess with the Lib Dems). I essentially wasn’t represented in the European Parliament even before we chose to Leave. Not to mention that no-one actually got asked whether they even wanted a European Parliament before elections just started happening. This is not democracy.
There’s a point in Buffy (in The Wish) where Giles realises he’s in a terrible alternate timeline as the result of a wish made on an amulet and goes to smash it, and the demon appears and says ‘How do you know the other world is any better than this one?’ and Giles replies ‘Because it has to be.’
I don’t know what a Brexit is going to look like and I don’t know whether it’s going to cost us a fortune or whether the Tories will sign us up to a thousand years of TTIP darkness. What I do know is that the European Union is a project of ever closer integration, of expansion of scope and dilution of democracy and I Do Not Want That. Maybe the circumstances or the timing could have been better but 23rd June was my only opportunity to vote for what I wanted.
The day before Jo Cox was murdered, I posted a Facebook status looking forward to the end of the campaign:
“The EU referendum is probably the only political issue that has riven my otherwise pretty ideologically homogenous friendslist straight down the middle and the split is cavernous and heartfelt on every side. I am really looking forward to a de-escalation of the increasingly personal and bitter clashes that are pitting me and others against long-time friends that I’ve known for years but who are forcing me to get up and leave my keyboard for a while to stop myself from blocking them and TPing their houses. I’m probably provoking some similar reactions. I don’t like what this vote is turning all of us into.”
Among others, it was liked by nearly all of the people with whom I had until that point been clashing so viciously.
So I voted Leave. And for voting Leave, I was called a racist, I was told my friends would die, several people unfriended me and my best friend didn’t speak to me for three months. Being on the receiving end of the contempt of the chattering classes has been a very informative experience.
I hope, that as time goes on, I will be vindicated in my position. As of December 2016, things seem to be going largely as I had expected.
* The EU Referendum: Do you REALLY want to vote with [person I hate]? – Dismantling a Remain argument I particularly despise.
* Lexit: The Morning After. – Immediately reaction posted June 24th.
* Lexit: A Response to the Weekend. – A more in-depth response posted a couple of days later.
* Lexit: The Case for the EEA. – An primer to explain to people the purpose of the European Economic Area and how we could leave the EU and remain int he single market through membership of it.
* Specific Things I Don’t Like About the European Union – Someone asked what exactly I didn’t like about the EU and our relationship with them and I gave a few examples.
* Six month after Brexit. – Originally a Facebook comment analysing how my earlier predictions to how Brexit would unfold was matching up with reality.
* Guy Verhofstadt MEP Addresses European Parliament on Brexit (28th June, 2016). – A transcription of a speech by Guy Verhofstadt calling for a European state following Brexit.