In 1993, a man called Alan Sked founded the United Kingdom Independence Party. If you don’t know who Alan Sked is, what sort of a person do you think he might be? You might guess that he is a raging righty, spouting anti-immigration populism at every opportunity. In fact, he is a left-wing intellectual who teaches a course at LSE on an American history of sex, race and slavery. He stood for the Liberal Party, but found himself becoming sceptical about the European Union, eventually opting to start his own left-wing party that would oppose Britain’s membership of the EU. He resigned from his position as leader of UKIP in 1997, on the basis that ‘[UKIP] are racist and have been infected by the far-right’. He went on to found a party called New Deal, a left-wing alternative to UKIP that also opposes the European Union.
Left-wing criticism of the European Union had barely registered in the national debate surrounding our future in Europe. Virtually every prominent Eurosceptic makes their home on the right of British politics. To some degree, this is because, on the left, discussion around Europe has been stifled by accusations of xenophobia, islamophobia, or most damningly, racism. In the eyes of many on the left, if you oppose Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, you oppose immigration. I think that there are real concerns about Europe that people on either end of the left-right spectrum can appreciate, and there are even concerns that are naturally left wing.
Unless you believe that the social consequences of immigration are not worth the economic benefit (I don’t), not much of a case can be made to say that immigration has not been a net benefit for the United Kingdom. Fairly consistently, EU migrants are shown to contribute more than they take out to the British economy. In total, European migrants contribute £20bn net to the British economy, and from those Eastern European countries that joined the 2004 expansion, the figure is £5bn. Yet, something that is seldom discussed is the impact on the countries from which people are emigrating. Brain Drain is a known phenomenon; Eastern European countries are prone to losing their most educated citizens as they migrate to countries where standards of living are higher. A study by a Danish University found that in Romania, there was an abundance of problems relating to people emigrating: “negative aspects of the emigration include an unbalanced distribution of the available workforce by sector and geographical area, loss of the investment in education and a possibly future threat regarding the sustainability of the social protection systems (pension, medical care). In addition, Romania also suffers from distorted wage demand, depopulated regions, inflationary pressure due to remittances, social problems with children left behind by migrant parents to be cared for by relatives, etc.”
With regards to immigration, another factor of the European Union’s free movement principle that is rarely mentioned is the fact that if British political parties are committed to cutting immigration, they must discriminate against immigrants from outside the EU. The Conservatives have promised in their manifesto to set a target for keeping immigration in the tens of thousands. Labour has promised to cap immigration from outside the EU. What this means is that, if the main two parties want to stick to their word, they must actively reduce the number of migrants coming from outside of the EU, and reduce the number by a lot. This seems highly unfair, and – dare I say it – somewhat racist. Ironically, claims of racism levied against those critical of Europe can be applied with as much validity to those who are wholly supportive of the European Union and the principle of free movement.
Another big issue for many lefties is the European Initiative called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While the stated aim is to remove protectionist barriers to trade between the EU and the US, there are a number of nasty surprises hidden in the fine print. Firstly, TTIP makes it much easier for the National Health Service to be sold off to private companies by the backdoor. When the Health and Social Care Act was introduced by the coalition government in 2012, many on the left criticised it as a move toward privatisation. If TTIP were to go through, it would make repealing the Health and Social Care Act, which Labour has promised to do in its 2015 manifesto, impossible. Linda Kaucher, a professor specialising in International Trade at LSE, has said, “Even if outcomes of the NHS changes are disastrous, ISDS (laws intended to promote corporate legal protection) will effectively disallow any attempts by any future UK government to reverse the changes.”
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a famous tenet of the EU, a set of tariffs and production requirements for countries within the EU. It was started with wholly good intentions: to reduce starvation in Europe. What is has become, however, is more sinister. One of Africa’s large sources of income is its exports from agricultural production. CAP has meant that fewer and fewer EU countries can afford to import from Africa, but if the EU were to reform the CAP, Africa would fare much better in its trading with Europe. The EU refuses to reform, and Africa is left all the poorer for it.
With all that being said, I do not call myself a Eurosceptic. I am uncertain on what Britain’s future in the EU should be, as so much good has come out of the EU as well as the bad. The EU has been a driving force for peace in Europe, and, whilst not technically a part of the EU, the European Court of Human Rights (which all EU members are required to join before entry) has done very well in upholding the civil liberties of its citizens. Immigration has been hugely beneficial for the UK, and the EU does a lot to move us closer to a more integrated, multicultural Britain. Whether Britain should head towards the European exit door is not clear, but what is clear is that the case for reform within Europe, especially the left wing case, is stronger than ever.