We Had the Vote: Leave the EU Now. Conference, Birmingham 27/10/2018

A veritable line up of speakers attended yesterday’s conference held in Birmingham against the flow of demos demanding that we stay in the EU and its institutions. None of them made arguments remotely resembling those associated with the Brexiteers on the right flooding page of press, tv representing the massive reaction of the EU elite to those who had the temerity to vote to leave the EU in 2016. We had the vote: leave the EU now!

Issues raised at the outset included sovereignty, which can be associated with the wishes of supporters of UKIP and the Tory right, although for totally different ends, but from thereon there was little if nothing comparable. Dr Kim Bryan from the Socialist Labour Party spoke of the endless and destructive wars in which NATO was involved in proxy wars accounting for 95% percent of deaths in continuing global conflicts: the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, the Yemen. The EU is committing increasing funds using NATO to protect its interests. 

Ken Capstick, former Deputy Leader of Yorkshire NUM, spoke of austerity as a “Capitalist Crime” which is being allowed continue after the 2007 financial crash. The leaders of the EU, financiers and bankers, were associated with fraud, theft and other criminal activities and should now be in jail. Don’t hear this from Tories and their right wing allies. 

Professor Costas Lapavitsas, a former Greek MP in the Syriza Government made an eloquent and clear case for the need to end any association with free markets and the tools being used by the EU to meet their agenda. Their aim was to bring about stabilisation through measures such as austerity. Since the method used was to created money is this “stabilisation” real? As is being shown now in Italy, as well as Spain, Portugal and Greece. Austerity is not a policy, it is now institutionalised so that voters have no choice of voting for a party which can do anything different. The “democratic deficit” has become an abyss. There is a profound divergence among people as a result with feelings of powerlessness reasons for which many are unable to comprehend. While the message is that EU produces harmony among member states the reverse is true: Germany is using the EU for its own purposes with France in a support role. Central European states support Germany’s industrial base while those in the south are sources of cheap labour. 

Prof. Lapavitsas ended with advice about what we can do now, discussed in more detail in his new publication “The Left Case Against the EU”. Reform he saw as complete surrender. We are internationalists, but we need the internationalism of labour, not capitalism. For this we have to start from home.

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the General Federation of Trades Unions, pointed out that we need to get out of the single market institutions to restore our freedom to determine our future. The “Freedoms of Maastricht” are restrictions except for big international corporations. The basis of the single market came from Thatcher’s decision in 1979 to remove exchange controls on capital in Britain. The result caused misery for many when industry moved elsewhere across the globe. People were told to “get on their bike” to get jobs, as we thought that we had a right to expect employment where we were living. Movement of labour internationally hollowed out the work forces of some countries. UK agricultural and fishing industries were devastated and our ability to sustain ourselves in food and energy was reversed. As net contributors to the EU budget we had a little of our money returned through projects across the nation.

It was pointed out that the EU has not been audited for 20 years. It is rife with corruption and people don’t know her the money goes. We need to re-establish self-reliance to rebuild our own economy and industry. At present EU procurement and competition policies consistently disadvantage British industry. We have to ensure that EU law doesn’t continue to overrule employment law that we ourselves have created. Poland had to tear up all their collective bargaining agreements as a condition of joining the EU.

We need to reject protracted negotiations designed to keep us tied to the EU in some way, but we had a significant working class positive vote which generally lit a spark across Europe and which should mean that we will leave in EU on 29th March.  The elite were caught unawares that this would happen are themselves divided. Britain’s history has been one like a sleeping giant which periodically re-awakens to challenge. The question of an Irish border with controls is an excuse being used to frustrate an agreement. We should remember the great leaders such as James Connolly who stood for freedom and self-determination of their countries, free of impositions from others. These were understood as internationalist perspectives where all others would have their rights respected based on creative co-operation.

Arthur Scargill, Leader of the Socialist Labour Party concluded drawing on his long experience of campaigning against Europe, including in 1975 alongside Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. Going into Europe had resulted in the UK losing its manufacturing base which accounted for 80% of the GDP. Germany is succeeding because of its manufacturing strength, not least in the automotive industry, formerly a feature of a strong British industry. If we take back control we can revive our manufacturing base, using our energy supplies, with new technology available for clean energy, and provide the jobs we need.  

We at this conference should determine to oppose the economic and political decision to sabotage the people’s decision to leave in an unprecedented and sustained campaign through media that ran even into children’s television. We have a responsibility to respond with the case against membership of the EU  We need to understand the issues now and go from here to tell others bringing people onto the streets to oppose what’s going on.

Scargill pointed out that we had a people’s vote. He was referring to the General Election called by Theresa May in 2017. In that resulted he noted that 75% of constituencies with Conservative MPS voted to leave the EU and 61% of constituencies with Labour MPs. If that was reflected in parliament there wouldn’t be a need for a debate. We don’t need further debate, we need action. 

Instead we have betrayal from many in the labour movement who need to understand the facts of life we’re discussing. No socialist can support the free movement of people or capital. Tony Benn made it clear that the EU constitution supported Capitalism. 

The Labour Party did not escape criticism in its wish for a customs union and a free market.

We need to call meetings like this across Britain to say what is going on and will not accept the sabotage of the right wing. That is the way to win the votes of the British people.

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