As we build up to CULC's Brexit panel event this coming Tuesday (29th January), we will be featuring posts putting the case for various Brexit 'options'. The first of these was written by our Graduate Officer, Alasdair Keith, and first appeared in The Cambridge Student.
The EU referendum of 2016 split clearly down class lines. Whilst 59% of those in the AB social bracket and 52% in the C1 bracket (the upper and middle class) voted to remain, 62% of those in the C2 bracket (skilled working class) and a staggering 64% of those in the DE bracket (unskilled working class or unemployed) voted to leave.
Why then do the majority in the Labour Party, and more broadly those on the left, insist that voting to leave the EU is against working-class interests? To say that they know better would be patronising to the extreme, and yet that is exactly what they do.
The reason for this is that the left is no longer working-class. Recent figures show that 77% of Labour Party members are upper- or middle-class, and it’s a similar story for the Greens (77%) and Lib Dems (85%).
Unlike the vast majority of Labour Party members, I actually am working-class. I started campaigning for the party when I was three (yes, three years old) and became a member at fifteen. I bleed Labour, and that’s why I care so much about its destruction from within, by the ‘woke’, macchiato-drinking, London-centric, pseudo-left in this country. Nothing has deepened this dichotomy convulsing the party more than the EU referendum, where the sheer contempt these liberals have for the working class has been laid bare for all to see. Not a day has gone by since the result where I haven’t heard Leave voters being referred to as stupid or racists. It’s total nonsense.
I harbour a hope that this disdain much of the liberal left holds is unintentional and not born out of any real malice. It’s with this hope that I have written this article, to try to convince the reader that Brexit will actually advance working-class concerns.
First, I would like to address the free movement of labour. The influx of labour depresses wages and compromises the bargaining power of trade unions. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the individuals themselves who come to this country in search of a better life – indeed, I admire them for making that leap. But we must stand up for our own low-wage workers. The Migration Observatory at Oxford recently collated various studies on immigration, which highlighted a common finding that ‘immigration has [a] small impact on average wages but more significant impacts along the wage distribution: low-waged workers lose while medium and high-paid workers gain.’ Specifically, Dustmann et al. found that ‘a 1% increase in the share of migrants in the UK-born working age population results in a 0.6% decline in the wages of the 5% lowest paid workers,’ a conclusion corroborated by the studies of Nickell and Salaheen. Now to those who have never wanted for money, I guess a decline of 0.6% does not mean much. But believe me, it does for those at the very bottom of the pile. I’d also like to point out that recent levels of immigration have been far higher than a 1% share of the workforce (from 1997-2017 the increase was 9.1% according to the Migration Observatory and 7.6% according to the Office for National Statistics) and so the effects on wage compression are most likely far more profound.
Thatcher did all she could to break trade union power, and the EU – with its free movement of labour – is simply building upon her legacy. The premise is simple: in an environment where the labour market is exceedingly fluid, it is increasingly difficult for workers to organise and mobilise. Why would an employer choose a unionised worker when somebody arriving from outside the country, looking for work opportunities, demands much less from them? This is why big businesses are so much in thrall to the EU, and the gig economy – which the left professes to hate – is booming.
Another reason to condemn the EU is that, though it denounces protectionism in any of its member states, it is itself protectionist. Farmers in many parts of Africa and Asia would love to sell their goods in Europe. These are amongst the poorest people on the planet and yet the EU prevents them from trading through the imposition of impossible quality standards and the subsidisation of European farmers. I think we in the UK especially have an obligation to trade with those in the Commonwealth, who we shamefully abandoned when we joined the EU. Opening our trade in foodstuffs up to the rest of the world could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. We could waive the spurious regulatory standards currently imposed by the EU and set tariffs low or nil, particularly on goods not typically produced in this country (such as oranges or bananas) where there will therefore be no impact on farmers and agricultural workers here. That way, food prices in our supermarkets, no longer inflated by EU protectionism, ought to fall. This would especially benefit poorer households in the UK, who typically spend a higher proportion of their income on food. Brexit therefore presents a real opportunity to benefit both the poorest buyers in the UK as well as the poorest producers in the world. I’d love to start buying my grapes, for example, from Namibia rather than from Greece. That would help the farmers of Namibia to sustain themselves and would also reduce costs for the British consumer.
Leftists should also oppose the EU because it is hostile to Keynesian economics. Indeed, the bureaucrats of Brussels don’t believe in member-state intervention into the market economy, even during periods of low demand (which is typically accompanied by a recession). The EU tries to prevent (and can fine in the case of eurozone members) any sovereign government that runs a budget deficit of 3% or more of GDP. So, other than austerity – and we’ve seen how effective that is – how is a government meant to rejuvenate an economy during or after recession? After World War Two, we were able to spend our way out of poverty through a comprehensive public works program – why should we not be allowed to again? The reality of the matter is that the EU could easily block any meaningful reforms that Jeremy Corbyn wishes to enact – such as nationalising and integrating our transport system – should he become Prime Minister.
I am clearly no Tory. And I feel that Theresa May (who supports Brexit like the rope supports the hanging man) has approached these negotiations pitifully. But I don’t trust Project Fear. We were promised an emergency budget even just by voting to leave, and that never materialised.
The Labour Party has historically been against the European project, including leading figures such as Clement Attlee and Tony Benn. The greatest and most effective trade unionist of the past thirty years, Bob Crow, was totally against the EU and even set up a party to fight against it. Back then, the left in this country realised that the EU was heading in a deeply undemocratic direction, and that the concept of a free market and the free movement of labour was designed to smash the trade unions. It’s a real pity that the left seems to have forgotten its roots on this matter.
Perhaps there are those on the pro-EU left who are unconvinced by a genuine, working-class, socialist argument. Well, I believe in the people of this country, especially in the working class of this country, and I believe they got it right when they voted to leave the EU.
 https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/how-britain-voted-2016-eu-referendum, accessed 3/10/18.
 L. Audickas, N. Dempsey and R. Keen, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. SN05125, September 2018.
 https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/the-labour-market-effects-of-immigration/, accessed 3/10/18.
 C. Dustmann, T. Frattini, and I. P. Preston, The Effect of Immigration along the Distribution of Wages, Review of Economic Studies, 80(1), 2013, 145-173.
 S. Nickell and J. Salaheen, The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages: Evidence from Britain, Working Paper No. 08-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Boston, 2008.
 https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/migrants-in-the-uk-labour-market-an-overview/, accessed 5/10/18.
 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/ukandnonukpeopleinthelabourmarket/august2017, accessed 5/10/18.
 https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/9562, accessed 7/10/18.