Should we leave or remain in the EU? Roundtable Discussion – Part 1

The EU referendum debate has been raging for months now. Whilst it has droned on, as a nation we have come to accept that this isn’t really a discussion about our place in the global market place but a proxy for talking about how immigration threatens British identity. Who would be better placed then to discuss their views on the subject that those most implicated in the immigration debate- people of colour. I wanted to gather a range of our voices to reflect the myriad ways we view this debate. Here then are academics, activists, thinkers and writers on whether we should leave or remain in the EU.

Lola Okolosie, Editor at Large

 

Nadine El-Enany teaches at Birkbeck School of Law and has written for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and Critical Legal Thinking. @NadineElEnany

Lexit is a dream that has not been realised. I’ve taught EU law for many years and have always tried to instil in my students a healthy scepticism about the EU. I have worked hard to show them that it is possible to be critical of the neoliberal, capitalist, imperialist EU and not fall into the UKIP camp. Sadly, despite my early hopes that there might be a space for a Left alternative to the EU in this referendum, the Brexit campaign has been completely defined by the ugliest form of Euro-scepticism imaginable. The Brexit campaign would have us believe that all the ills of society have come from the outside, but migrants are not to blame for austerity and exploitation.

If Britain votes leave, it does so on the terms of the racist and xenophobic Brexit campaign. A Brexit vote would provide a mandate for the Brexit leaders to push for Fortress Britain, which already exists insofar as it can as an EU Member State – Britain is the most fortified of all EU countries, e.g. not part of Schengen, and a similar number of asylum applications have been made in Britain this year as in 2008 unlike the higher numbers we see in other EU countries (Eurostat). Any talk of refugee “crisis” does not apply to Britain. Britain has been the strongest advocate of the EU Dublin Regulation, which sees people seeking asylum confined to Southern Europe, sometimes under conditions found to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights (MSS v Belgium and Greece (2011)). A Brexit vote would legitimise the racism that is at the core of the Brexit campaign, and would provide a validating framework for the enactment of the ugly promises that the campaign has made, e.g. their wish for an Australian style immigration system, an idea originally proposed by Tony Blair when he was in government, inspired by Australia’s “Pacific Solution”. We know what that looks like, visas for the white and privileged while brown and black refugees self-immolate in prisons on isolated Pacific islands.

 

Aaron Bastani is the co-founder of Novara Media and Silke Digital. He has published with, among others, the Guardian, Vice and the LRB. He is currently completing a Ph.D at the New Political Communications Unit at Royal Holloway, University of London. @aaronbastani

I couldn’t agree more Nadine. Last weekend I watched Iain Duncan-Smith, who previously denied that real wages were stagnant or falling for much of the last five years, perform a volte face and insist that average pay has in fact gone down since 2010 and that immigration is the main reason. That betokened to me how, in recent weeks, we are witnessing the emergence of a popular ‘Red UKIP’ rhetoric: a political calculus which inflects anti-austerity and pivots to concerns on housing, pay, work and public services and apportions blame on non-British institutions – the EU foremost among them – and immigrants. For my money that is a potent Conservative politics after this referendum and, furthermore, the post-Cameron aftermath.

While most Tory voters last May will be voting to leave come June 23, the decisive factor will be those that voted Labour. Recent polling suggests that as much as 45% support Brexit. Short of voter turnout increasing by something like ten per cent – which is not impossible – that would prove decisive. Indeed, outside the major cities, I think it is now highly likely that a majority of Labour supporters want Britain out of the EU. They may agree with Corbyn on re-nationalisation, the minimum wage and austerity, but they don’t reflect his internationalism.

The core Labour vote is now fracturing into two heartlands: large metropolitan areas – with ‘cosmopolitan’ values at their heart – and former industrial/mining areas. On Europe, and a range of other issues, these two camps disagree far more than many of us realise. It is a Red UKIP politics, of the sort now gaining currency within the Brexit camp, which will attract these voters, not just for this referendum but potentially the next General Election as well. It may indeed be so compelling a narrative, that the next Tory leader will adopt it. Listening to Michael Gove and Boris Johnson over these last few weeks, I think that is increasingly plausible.

An ‘Australian-style’ system would fit this new mood perfectly. Migration is permissible only as something of net benefit to the economy. That has been the direction of travel for quite some time but leaving the EU would be decisive in this regard.

I also think that the left, even in the final days preceding the vote, needs to think about how it responds to these challenges. What is clear is that for a faction of the Conservative Party they want an end to freedom of movement and worker’s rights – whether we stay or go. Accordingly, we need to coordinate forms of migrant support for non-EU and EU migrants alike. Whatever the outcome on the 23rd.

 

Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts for various publications online and offline, more of her work can be found at www.jendella.co.uk. @JENDELLA

Thanks Nadine and Aaron for your thoughts. I have been struggling as to how to explain my own position on the referendum because I have been trying to get a grip on the information – or lack of sensible, objective information – available, as well as the political circus that it has all become. From the jump my initial reaction was to vote to Remain. I spent a lot of time wrestling with why this was my gut instinct and whether this has been completely ruled by a fear of the unknown and thus hedging my bets with the status quo. All I have known is the EU. In my GCSEs I had to write essays about France’s relationship to the European Union for my French language exam, and similarly in Citizenship class we did the same – although in remarkably less detail – for Britain. Some of my more suspicious friends have viewed this as subtle pro-EU indoctrination, and maybe it is, but taking all of this into account I’ve been quite silent as I try to work out how to make an informed decision on the matter.

But reading your thoughts, Nadine and Aaron, has crystallised for me why exactly I am so instinctually against Brexit as it has been presented. The tone has been set. The racist and xenophobic basis for the campaign is so abhorrent, and the thought falling in line behind Nigel Farage as a leader in any shape or form and voting to Leave physically disgusts me. The only reason this referendum is happening is because Cameron sought to encircle the Far Right into the Conservative supporter base, hoping to pry them away from UKIP and from that point forward everything has been set on their terms. It feels like for years these politicians have been catering to the irrational fears of the Far Right, even the Archbishop of Canterbury has validated their arguments by stating that “it’s not racist to be concerned about immigration”, which has lead to two Far Right London Mayoral candidates invoking the name of the church and Christianity in their campaign literature. And now with the horrific murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by someone with obvious white nationalist leanings, all my unspoken fears are at the forefront of my mind. Our political climate has created this, it has validated it, and a vote to Leave is only adding further validation and fuel to fire of white nationalist hate that has been quietly stoked over recent years.

 

Eddie Bruce-Jones is Senior Lecturer in Law at Birkbeck College School of Law, where he teaches courses on equality law, migration law and European Union law.  His forthcoming book is entitled Race in the Shadow of Law: State Violence in Contemporary Europe (Routledge). He serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute of Race Relations and the Board of Trustees of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. @EddieBruceJones

Nadine, Aaron and Jendella, you all describe a range of assumptions and outcomes that the leave campaigns fail to account for. I agree with the proposition that Lexit is an impossibility. ‘Lexit’ is meant to describe the position from the UK left that we should exit the European Union. Giving every possible benefit of doubt about what a Left position to leave the EU might entail, it might include, somewhere in the complexity, a deep critique of EU policies and in solidarity with those here and abroad who are negatively affected by them, in terms of e.g., austerity policies, racism, Islamophobia and the violent treatment of refugees, etc. At its worst, Lexit is a charade that advances the same propositions as Brexit using slightly different language.

The Lexit move demonstrates that the bogeymen of our times are not dreamt up only by the Nigel Farages; they also haunt the left imagination. Lexit is an unimaginative disengagement from these issues, a turn inward and away from the UK’s inevitable engagement in the world. It is also a knowing embrace of the horrific domestic effects of leaving the UK at this moment, and on these terms—terms set by nationalist-leaning politicians that depict the borders as shields from bad trade deals and waves of immigration. Leaving the EU now would be read by many as an endorsement of cultural and social nativism and economic protectionism. It would justify, in the minds British people, the ever-growing racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia by affirming popular fears of refugees, radicalisation, cultural swamping and economic displacement. We who consider ourselves to be ‘on the Left’ need to think more creatively about the world we envision living in.

If we look at asylum applications, according to Eurostat, the average number of asylum applications per 100,000 of total population across the EU is 260; the average in the UK is 60, twenty countries have a higher percentage of applications. If we regard the treatment of vulnerable populations as part of a wider issue of racism, then the UK has been lagging behind all along; that is something we do need to change, but we do not need to leave the EU framework to do it. However, if we do leave the EU framework, the political situation that will result will likely prevent movement in the direction of increased support for refugees.

Second, the Brexit debate has indeed been and continues to be a deeply racist one. One need only look at the Vote Leave mailout map or the Leave. EU cartoon to understand how the social issues in the leave camp are being positioned. For the Lexit camp to trivialise the clear and pervasive racism and Islamophobia that underpins the right wing position is complicit and troubling.

If the right-wing segment of the Brexit campaign is an overtly nativist campaign that relies on populist notions of a Britain for British, then Lexit is really just populism lite. It is not an alternative at all. The Left cannot afford to advance a position of disengagement and cloistering as a way forward, neither in the short term nor the long term, and especially in a time where a move to leave will be credited to the rationales of the moderate-to-far right wing.

Part 2 featuring Siana Bangura, Maurice Mcleod, Rashné Limiki and Dr Iyiola Solanke will be published at the same time tomorrow 22.06.2016.

More info on where you can vote in the EU referendum on Thursday here

READ PART 2 HERE

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This feature was commissioned and edited by MD’s Editor-at-large Lola Okolosie. To pitch an article, review or feature please contact her at lola@mediadiversified.org

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