December 21, 2016

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. 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 perspective

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.

What now?

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 June 2017, 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 in the 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.

Lexit: After Article 50 – Jeremy Corbyn and the Hain Amendment – A collection of thoughts posted in the immediate aftermath of the passage of legislation to enable Article 50.

* Lexit: After Article 50 – Some Inconvenient Truths – Some facts to counter some myths I encountered in the last six months.

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It is often argued by people who wish to remain part of the European Union that the fears expressed by people who wish to leave because they fear a federalised United States of Europe are just fear-mongering and there is no substance to it. What few federalists exist, they argue, they have little voice and little influence to effect their goals.

Guy Verhofstadt MEP, leader of Association of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the liberal grouping in the European Parliament, delivered in the European Parliament on the 28th June, five days after the European referendum, a speech reacting to the Brexit vote, calling for a European state.

I have written out the full transcription below, and you can watch the video here.

He spends a minute bashing the Brexit politicians and their campaign and then lays into the European Council for their poverty of vision in not seizing the political moment and pushing towards that state. Then he announces plans for his grouping, your grouping, to develop documents this year, in how to realise that vision.

Now I find that all very worrying, but you know what? I’ll never have to worry about Britain joining the Euro or forming a European Army again, because whatever happens with our membership of the single market, that stuff is off the table once and for all.

Guy Verhofstadt MEP

Guy Verhofstadt MEP

“The only thing I have heard from the Council is that we shouldn’t change anything and we should just implement existing policies. I find this shocking and I find it so irresponsible. I don’t think you understand what is happening. It’s not only a Brexit referendum. Before that it was the referendum in Denmark: negative. There was the referendum on the Ukraine agreement in the Netherlands: negative. Now in the UK: What are you waiting for? For the next referendum in France? The next referendum in Italy, maybe?

When will the Council recognise that this type of European Union, of today, you cannot defend it anymore, and that Europe needs to be re-formed; and in my own opinion, a new vision and new project needs to be presented to the citizens of Europe, because the truth is that the citizens of Europe are not against Europe, they are against *this* Europe.

And the proof of that, Mr. President is the Eurobarometer and I am asking myself why the Commission and Parliament have not published this much earlier. It’s from a few weeks ago, in April, and you know what the results are?

82% want more European action on the fight against terrorism.

77% of European citizens want more European action in the fight against unemployment.

75% of European citizens want more European action in the fight against tax fraud.

74% are asking for more European action on the issue of migration.

On 14 of the 15 questions put to the European citizens in this Eurobarometer, a few weeks ago, people are asking for more European action, not less European action.

The problem is that Europe has become, what? Europe, our Europe has become an expert in legislation on the exact measure and colour of packets of cigarettes. We have become experts in deciding the amount of flushing water in toilets, and the level of subsidies that local football clubs can receive from a local government.

But what European citizens want and this is what the Eurobarometer tells us, is that they want;

* a European border and coast guard
* a European asylum and immigration policy to tackle the migration crisis
* to have a European capacity for intelligence to tackle terrorism
* to have a European government to defend the Euro
* to have a European army to defend the borders and contain conflicts in our neighbourhood

That is what the citizens are asking. That is what they are asking. Here.

The problem is, the inconvenient truth, or rather, I should say, the convenient lie, is that more of the same will not get us out of this crisis, dear colleagues. That is burying our heads in the sand. People want you to work on another Europe, a Europe that delivers results. And by not doing that, what you are doing is sleepwalking towards a disaster. Towards 27 other referendums, in the near future.

So let’s not be naive: the real problem, and Mr Patella is right when he is mentioning Schengen, is intergovernmentalism.

A loose confederation of nation states based on unanimity cannot work.

That is the reality of today, that you don’t recognise, until now.

And I will conclude with that, Mr. President, we’re going to do our homework. Parliament will be ready in October with a global plan based on [unintelligible] reports of the way forward. And we will not talk, be sure, about federalism, integration, deepening, widening, coordination, implementation, and all these other buzzwords that are in the centre of our discussions.

We’re simply going to go back to the ideas of our founding fathers. That is what we have to do.

And it is a [unintelligible] challenge. Now or never.

Our union will change, Mr. Tusk, or it will die. That is what is at stake.”

(6) EP Plenary session: Conclusions of the European Council meeting of 28 and 29 June 2016 – Council and Commission statements. Round of political group speakers. Guy VERHOFSTADT (ALDE, BE) + bluecard (10:01 – 10:09)

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Specific Things I Don’t Like About The European Union

June 27, 2016

Originally posted to Facebook, 26th June, 2016. Edited for clarity. I was asked: “What are examples of things that the EU have control over that you don’t like? When you say, “we get considerable sovereignty back over stuff that I think is important”, do you have examples of things ? Like, I don’t think I […]

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