Rachel Allen | In response to “Why I can’t forgive people for supporting Brexit”

Journalist Rachel Allen responds to Joe Peacock's recent Pro EU article

Here is the article “Why I Can’t forgive people for supporting Brexit” 

Before we start with this response article, I will state that I voted to leave in 2016 out of agreement with the idea that the EU is an undemocratic institution that is inherently neoliberal and that it must always act to undermine any positive change from the left in member states. Nothing since the referendum has caused me to change my mind on this vital point and thus reconsider my vote.

Here’s my rebuttal to the following 10 arguments:

  1. Legitimising racism and hate crime

I have multiple problems with this argument. To state simply that ‘all racists voted for Brexit’ is meaningless given that the EU relates to almost every issue (economy, trade, sovereignty, even foreign policy) and that someone could have voted Leave for any number of these reasons. The largest motivator for leave voters was sovereignty – wanting control over one’s own lawmaking powers (1). As regards the increase in hate crimes, assuming that this is documented, if I do not promote racist narratives or commit hate crimes I cannot be held responsible for those that do just because we agree on one issue. Both of these arguments are a guilt by association strategy.

The other problem have with this argument is that it normalises EU racism, by drawing a false contrast between the Racist Britain and the Tolerant EU. The EU actually promotes many of the same racist causes as the right wing British establishment. In particular, it is a passionate supporter of the racist Israeli state that dehumanises Palestinians. (2)

  1. Enriching the super rich

I would agree that the idea that Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson represent the working class is indeed absurd. But have you looked at who supported remain? Are ardent remainers Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, Peter Mandelson & David Cameron any better? The truth is there were terrible people on both sides.

All politicians act in the interests of their financial backers. A large number, probably a majority, of business interests supported Remain.

  1. Legitimising lying

The idea that the Brexit campaign legitimised lying in some sort of unique way as if this has never happened before is absurd. Lying is a part of every single political campaign that has ever took place in history. ‘Fake news’, though it came into fashion as a term over the past 4 years, has always existed in politics and the largest piece of ‘fake news’ to exist in 21st century Britain was Tony Blair’s lie that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and that we needed to go to war with Iraq, a piece of ‘fake news’ that literally led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. A lie about Turkey joining the EU in the next 5 minutes and so we will have masses of Turkish immigration is nothing compared to that (though I would agree it is a lie as there is no realistic prospect of Turkey joining the EU soon, despite the fact it is a candidate state).

  1. Denying opportunities to my (and all our) kids

The problem with this argument is that it comes from a very out of touch and privileged position. A large swath of the British public gets little to no benefit from freedom of movement because they don’t have the money and don’t have the languages. The main beneficiaries in the UK of freedom of movement are middle to upper class people, who can go on their visa free holidays and super-exploit cheap Eastern European labour as cleaners and au pairs (or in their businesses if they have a business). To say you’ll ‘never forgive’ people for voting against ‘opportunities’ they don’t have anyway is rather ridiculous.

  1. Accelerating Climate Breakdown

Working with other countries does not involve being in the EU. We actually have more power and influence to pressure the British government (on climate or any other issue), that we do over Brussels which is completely unaccountable.

To show how unaccountable Brussels is we can look at the European Parliament. The parliament is the only aspect of the EU government that is elected, the members of the Commission (the EU executive) are appointed by member states. The Commission is the only body that can make legislation within the EU. The parliament is powerless in this regard and can only deal with legislation put forward by the Commission and choose to pass it or not. This means the EU essentially has a puppet parliament with an unelected executive.

Furthermore, it is worth adding that “The absence of a European demos with its integral class divisions prevents the existence of ‘normal’ politics in the EU. There are no social cleavages applying uniformly across EU member states that could be organically reflected in political contestation within EU institutions.”. (3) These factors mean there is no way to get real concessions or policy changes within the EU.

I also believe that the EU does prevent some national scale action to reduce carbon emissions. In particular, the laws of the EU are focused on supporting ‘competition’ and reject the idea of nationalisation, in fact making renationalisation through public monopoly illegal under EU laws. (4) I think it is reasonable to say an effective rail policy could be used by governments to lower carbon emissions by providing good public transport and reducing reliance on cars. Yet EU rail policy, under the fourth railway package, promotes ‘competition’ (5) and thus leaves us with an inefficient and overly expensive rail service.

  1. Giving Trump and Putin what they wanted

To simply say it’s bad because Donald Trump supports it is a fatally flawed argument. By that logic, diplomacy with Kim Jong Un is bad because Trump attempted it. But there’s more to say about this argument. While not stated openly, it operates on the failed Russiagate premises, in which Trump and Putin are in cahoots and that Putin is some sort of sinister actor who wants to take down the West.  This section is long, but I believe when it comes to the current attitude towards Russia it is necessary to really get down to the detail and the counterproductive nature of the argument.

In reality, although Western media likes to pretend otherwise, Putin is a cautious and reactive foreign policy actor, who is largely concerned with preventing the expansion of Western influence (particularly NATO) in countries like Ukraine and Georgia and also with protecting his ally Bashar Al-Assad in Syria from overthrow by Islamic extremist groups. For example, the West promoted a coup against the democratically elected Yanukovych in Ukraine in 2014 after Yanukovych refused to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Stephen Cohen states: “[The AA] included protocols requiring Ukraine to adhere to Europe’s “military and security” policies, which meant in effect, without mentioning the alliance, NATO.” (6) This led to Putin’s reaction in Crimea.

Before examining claims that Russia ‘interfered’ in the Brexit election, we need to bear in mind the current atmosphere of hostility towards Russia being created by the American security services and copied by their lackeys, the UK. Russia opposes certain Western agendas (for example, overthrowing Assad by the use of Islamist extremist proxies) and this means that Russia must be vilified. The hatred of Russia also justifies endless amounts being spent on the American military.

These factors led directly to the Russiagate narrative, the crux of which involved Russian actors hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails and sending them to WikiLeaks and Russian troll farms influencing people’s vote. It is impossible to address every contorted and contrived Russiagate claim here as there have been so many. But the claim that Russia hacked the Clinton emails has been disproven by former NSA analyst Bill Binney, as the download speeds were far too fast for it to have been a hack. (7) The idea that Assange got the emails from Guccifer 2.0 (Russian intelligence according to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who looked into alleged Russian interference) is debunked by the fact that Assange announced he had the emails before Mueller claims Assange spoke to Guccifer, which makes no sense unless you think Assange is a psychic. The Russian troll farm argument has also been debunked. The Internet Research Agency (the troll farm) put out “juvenile clickbait” (8) such as Buff Bernie memes and Jesus masturbation memes and Mueller even had to admit in court that there is no evidence it was linked to the Russian government.

Scepticism of any claims about Russian interference, therefore, is warranted, and a high standard of evidence needs to be demanded before we even consider the argument plausible given the amount of Russia ‘bombshells’ that have proven to be false. Now let’s deal with the idea that Britain voted Leave because of Russia, the parallel to the Americans voted for Trump because of Russia (It seems we must copy the Americans in everything. I do not remember this narrative about Brexit being promoted before Trump’s election).

Claims about on the bad boys of Brexit website about (alleged) Russian accounts on Twitter simply do not provide the weight of evidence required to believe that the Russian government ‘interfered’ with the Brexit election. The abstract for the linked paper on referendum Twitter bots does not even mention Russia. (9) It cannot be evidence of Russian bots if it doesn’t even try to demonstrate the bots are Russian, which as far as I can tell, it doesn’t. It’s also worth noting that Western claims about who is a ‘Russian bot’ also often turn out to be false. One of the most notable examples is twitter handle @ian56789, who was accused of being a Russian bot – he’s actually a British pensioner. (10)

Now let’s address “Swansea University researchers identified 156,252 accounts that mentioned #Brexit during May and June 2016 and that had apparent links to Russia, using the Cyrillic alphabet or Russian as their interface language.” (11) (note the weasel words of ’apparent links’ here). Obviously, use of Cyrillic or Russian also does not prove the accounts are linked to Russia given that other languages use Cyrillic and a large number of citizens in the post-Soviet space are Russian speakers. Russian is also the second most popular language online meaning that many post-Soviet citizens who have Russian as a second language might be more likely to use it online.

But we can go further. In order to prove that the Russian government promoted a pro-Brexit narrative, it is necessary to demonstrate that these accounts have some sort of connection to the Russian government. Without this evidence, there is nothing to say that these accounts are not private Russian citizens expressing their opinion on Brexit or a non-state actor such as a troll farm trying to drum up clicks for money by posting about a controversial issue of the day. The Swansea University claim does not do that. The only evidence it presents that they are ‘linked to Russia’ is the fact that they use the Russian language; that is not evidence they are linked to the Russian government. The linked Guardian article refers back to the idea that these accounts were created by the troll farm Internet Research Agency (12) which to repeat, Mueller had to admit that there was no evidence of this troll farm being a Russian state operation.

Anti-Russia narratives are counterproductive for the left, for multiple reasons. The Russia focus impedes a genuine critique of real problems and policy choices made by the Conservatives by deflecting our problems on to a foreign actor (“People didn’t vote for Brexit because we have real problems, they voted because of Russia!”). It also serves the continuing smear campaign and demonization of Julian Assange, a heroic journalist who revealed war crimes and corruption, rather than fighting for his freedom from torture. I also find it contradictory that the author claims we should work with other countries, but through this idea also promotes the vilification of Russia.

  1. Making this country a laughing stock

Who is laughing at Britain? If people want to laugh at us they are welcome to. Who cares?

No I don’t support the British Empire, but nor do I think people voted Leave in general because they want to bring back the Empire – obviously impossible. I would agree that more British people express pride in the Empire than I am comfortable with, but in general, I’m more concerned with the murderous foreign policy establishment of today rather than what happened a long time ago.

  1. Enabling the Tories to take control

Brexit didn’t do this. Who did this? The Labour Party and to a lesser extent, the media.

In 2017, Labour gained a significant amount of votes and seats in the election. In that election, the party promised to respect the referendum result. In 2019, however, the party lost disastrously. The party ran a terrible campaign. They were unable to change the narrative to other issues such as the NHS, which they tried to do to deflect from the fact that their policy had changed from accepting Brexit to a second referendum.

The Blairite factions within the party (the vast majority of the PLP) pushed this second referendum policy. This faction of the party hated Jeremy Corbyn, and didn’t want him to be leader because he advocated policies that they abhor, particularly on foreign policy (e.g. his support for Palestine). They saw within the second referendum policy a chance to destroy Jeremy Corbyn had have him replaced with a Blairite lackey who would support the goals of the American foreign policy establishment (give them credit: it worked perfectly). So they pushed the second referendum at every opportunity, knowing that many of the new younger members of the Labour party who had chosen Corbyn (many from a middle class background) supported the EU, believing it to be internationalist and progressive. They knew this policy would disillusion traditional Labour voters in the Midlands and North – many of whom had voted for Brexit out of anger at the establishment of both parties.

Another important factor in ‘enabling the Tories’ is the UK media, which relentlessly smeared Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite in order to reduce his popularity. The Blairite wing of the Labour Party fully supported and backed up these smears, most notably deputy leader Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge. Of course, the reason for this was Corbyn’s support for Palestinian rights.

But perhaps the biggest factor is Jeremy Corbyn himself. Why? Because to be frank, he acted like a coward throughout the whole charade of his leadership. He could have put forward a strong Lexit message that accepted people’s vote and showed how popular policies like renationalising the railways could only be achieved outside of the EU. Probably the only opportunity in my lifetime there will ever be to use the Labour Party as a positive political vehicle was wasted, because Corbyn was more concerned with appeasing the unappeasable than he was in pushing positive change.

  1. Endangering millions of jobs

Rather than a narrow focus upon the possible jobs impact of Brexit, we need to take a deeper look at the economy and the economic structures underlying our problems. The key issue with Britain’s current economy is the neoliberal form of capitalism, which involves the outsourcing of jobs to low wage countries, attacks on the manufacturing base of the country (under Thatcher in particular) and privatisation of public services to unaccountable businesses. However, in order to solve these problems it is necessary to leave the EU. Why? Because the EU is a neoliberal institution and these neoliberal principles are embedded in its laws and institutions.

“The EU has constitutionalised free-market principles. As we have heard repeatedly throughout the Brexit process, where “the integrity of the single market” has constantly been invoked to rebuff British proposals, its constitutional principles, enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty, are the so-called “four freedoms”: a free market in goods, services, capital and labour. Unlike many constitutions, which enshrine the human rights of individuals, typically against the state, these are freedoms for capitalist enterprises to transact without restraint across the entire territory of the EU. Governments’ hands are tied; they cannot erect any barriers to capitalists’ freedoms without violating the EU’s de facto constitution (the treaties) and, if they do, they can expect legal action in their own domestic courts and, if necessary, the European Court of Justice, followed by enforcement actions, if necessary, by their own state apparatuses.

Like all constitutions, this pro-market constitution is designed to be difficult – near-impossible – to alter. By signing Maastricht and other treaties, EU member-states have deliberately tied their own hands. Governments that have embraced the neoliberal agenda can now point to EU law as the reason why they cannot change how the economy is governed.

[…] If the transnational political structures for challenging neoliberalism do not exist, that leaves us with only one option: a return to national structures, however imperfect these undoubtedly are. There is nothing inherently “reactionary” about this at all. In fact, the national scale is the only one where ordinary working people have managed to exercise any political influence whatsoever, through their own political parties.” (13)

The economic problems created by neoliberalism (one important factor in leading to a vote for Brexit) cannot be solved by the supranational neoliberalism of the EU.

  1. Doubling down – the most divisive issue ever

I’m not sure what the argument is here. Any political issue that is controversial is by definition ‘divisive’. You think everyone was wrong to support Brexit, but that is just your opinion. Some people ‘didn’t know what they were voting for’ but that applies to remain voters as well. Did Corbyn supporting Remain voters realise that voting for the EU means voting for ‘locking-in’ neoliberalism as outlined above?

This article made a lot of claims without presenting any real evidence. It relies on logical fallacies (e.g. X supports Y therefore Y is bad). But don’t worry. I can forgive people who voted to remain. Even though they voted for a neoliberal, undemocratic and unaccountable institution.

1) https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/

2) https://electronicintifada.net/content/bed-israel-eus-close-relationship-israel-supports-abuse/5459 https://twitter.com/EUinIsrael/status/1058019318217224192?s=20

3) Costas Lapavitsas, The Left Case Against the EU, p. 115.

4) https://www.thefullbrexit.com/nationalisation

5) https://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/rail_en

6) https://www.thenation.com/article/new-cold-war-and-necessity-patriotic-heresy/

7) https://jamesfetzer.org/2019/03/bill-binney-and-larry-johnson-how-we-know-the-dnc-was-not-hacked-by-the-russians/

8) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeqhiHdnc1w

9) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0894439317734157

10) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1InHG8KL_D4

11) https://badboysofbrexit.com/the-russia-connection/

12) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/15/russian-troll-factories-researchers-damn-twitters-refusal-to-share-data

13) https://www.thefullbrexit.com/remain-and-reform

 

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