I’m the kind of person who generally knows what I believe and what I want. I’ve never had any hesitation or doubt leading up to a general election or referendum. The order of my preferences may change, but I know who gets the first one and the rest is tactical. In referenda it’s the same. For Lisbon I couldn’t even vote but at the time I knew exactly what I would have voted and I haven’t changed my mind. The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is the first time I’ve ever been so unsure of where I stand politically. I spent ten minutes staring at my ballot paper after a week of hiding from it after it arrived in the post before I finally crossed the ‘Remain’ box. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. Coming from a family of Europhiles I’ve always been interested in the EU and had a certain sympathy towards its ideals. I’ve seen fantastic innovation and education projects develop with the support of its funding – funding that would never have come from right wing governments led by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Tories. But over the years I’ve come to realise that for all the hope and unity it claims to represent, in reality it pushes an agenda of globalisation and neoliberalism with which I profoundly disagree, and these are the core principles of its existence.
EU policies on fishing have devastated these industries in the UK and Ireland, and they have depleted natural resources. In the process of pushing its agenda of expanding, liberalising and standardising the common market it has regularly overridden the democratic will of national governments and the general public. It has had referenda re-run when it fails to get the right answer first time around, it has disregarded the results of elections and referenda when it goes against the stance of the Commission and the European Central Bank. It has taken positions in Greece so brutal and callous that even its bedfellows at the IMF have had to voice their objections and demand debt relief. Unemployment has effectively become institutionalised, and many local industries have been decimated. At the same time, however, it has proved beneficial for minority languages and has helped protect craft products. The EU is one grand contradiction, but so is this referendum campaign.
As a migrant, the grandchild of migrants and the great great grandchild of migrants, I was never going to be won over by the scaremongering about immigration. There is no invasion of migrants, no mass influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. I also wasn’t won over by arguments either way about the democratic status of the EU. Is it undemocratic? Yes. Is it as undemocratic as it is made out to be? No. We directly elect national governments and the European Parliament, and they then nominate and approve, respectively, the European Commission. The problem lies in the fact that the Commission doesn’t recognise its own mandate or the will of the people that put them into power in the first place. They see their mandate as existing purely by virtue of its own existence. At the end of the day, however, it is really no more undemocratic than the Seanad or the House of Lords.
I might seem like I have a clear stance against the EU, and I do. I want out, I want the UK to leave, but I feel the circumstances are wrong, and it is no accident that they are wrong. From the very beginning of the campaign the choice has been deliberately obscured. Will have a free trade deal with the EU? We don’t know. Will we have immigration controls? We don’t know. What will happen to Northern Ireland and the border? We don’t know. Will Scotland leave the UK? We don’t know. Can the EU be reformed and what reforms will we pursue? We don’t know. The people in positions of power such as David Cameron, who could well tell us what decisions will be made in each scenario have deliberately avoided doing so. On the opposite side there are the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who argue that the EU is a threat to the NHS when they have spent their political careers systematically undermining our national health service in an attempt to dismantle and privatise it. The free-market right has co-opted the campaign against TTIP as an anti-EU tool, while actually representing the kind of government that wants exactly what TTIP offers. It has got to a point where opposition to TTIP within the EU is much more likely to tear it to shreds and save us from its affects than if we were to leave the EU.
I want a Brexit, and more specifically a Lexit. I want to leave the EU in an attempt to improve democracy, rights and standards of living in the UK while still working with our comrades across Europe and the world, which we can do just as well outside the EU. After all, the EU isn’t Europe. The point has been made fantastically that the EU is simply a political construct, but Europe isn’t, and leaving the political construct of the EU doesn’t mean leaving Europe. However, at the end of the day we have to deal with the reality of the situation. We are living under a Tory government that is likely, even if a number of their seats are lost in the aftermath of the election fraud scandal, to remain in power until 2020 at the earliest. We are living under a Tory government that is so far right that Thatcher’s ministers, once representing the hard-right of the Conservative Party, now represent its left-wing, and it is set to surge even more to the right with the rise of careerists like Boris Johnson. It is far more of a threat to rights and freedoms than the EU has ever been. This is the context in which we would be leaving the EU. We would be handing post-referendum negotiating power over to right-wing Tories who have no intention of acting in the public interest or according to the democratic will of the people. We can kick them out in four years, but by that point they will have already negotiated the terms of Brexit. The campaign deliberately hasn’t been run properly. Rather than putting forward two or more clear options from which to choose, we have been told to decide between an unknown future in the EU and an unknown future outside of the EU. I have the benefit of holding dual citizenship, so there is very little that will change for me personally in the case of a Brexit, but I’m not willing to gamble with other people’s futures the way I’m being asked to. Whatever the result of the referendum, I don’t feel that it will be entirely valid. I will without a doubt respect the decision of the British public either way, but this referendum has deliberately excluded the people it affects the most; the young (under 18s), EU citizens living in the UK, and British citizens living in the EU. It has also obscured reality, it has been plagued by falsehoods and half truths.
My Remain vote was a reluctant and unsure one, and it’s a position I didn’t feel happy to take, but it was the result of the situation I (and many others) have found myself in. I don’t want to run the risk of igniting conflict in Northern Ireland or cutting funding to vital programmes of the Peace process simply because those in power have neglected their responsibilities and deliberately avoided telling the truth to the public simply to save their own skin. We can talk about what would happen in the case of a Lexit, but the fact of the matter is that there are no Socialists in power. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn currently sits on the opposition benches and hasn’t entirely rejected neoliberalism yet. I want to leave the EU one day soon, but now isn’t the time, and it simply isn’t possible in this precise moment for there to be a left-wing exit.
By Danny Rigg