In our second Brexit article, our Co-chair Lara Parizotto sets out why she thinks Labour should continue to support staying in the European Union. Our Brexit panel event will be happening this Tuesday at 18:30 at Emmanuel College.
I guess you could call me one of those macchiato-drinking, London-centric young liberals who strongly believe in Remain. But then I guess you could also call me one of Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’; perhaps an EU/Brazilian migrant who’s ‘jumped the queue’ and, who, like many others, found in London a home. One thing I would disagree with, however, is the claim that I am ‘pseudo-left’.
I have not only shared a house with migrants from Brazil, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania (yes, all in the same house) but I have also shared working class experiences with them. Stories of difficult working conditions and poor resources from management to stock shelves, clean tables, kitchens and toilets. Not necessary to say, of course, that we were all well underpaid for the work we were doing to afford our expensive living costs. (It is no secret that rent in London is expensive, right?)
These conversations were not confined to my shared flat, but were replicated many times on the doorstep of council estates when canvassing with the Labour Party in my home constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark in London. While it is true that many working class people voted Leave, I beg that we explore a more nuanced view of who our working classes are as I find it disingenuous to say that the ‘London liberals’ don’t understand experiences of hardship when many of them are the same people living in overcrowded accommodation and likewise struggling to make ends meet.
Ethnic minority groups voted Remain en masse. Only a quarter of the BME populations voted Leave. Even the groups who have not benefited from the EU’s visa-free movement largely voted for remain. Perhaps because equality legislation, which have been greatly supported by the EU, including laws around equal pay and fairer treatment for those on part-time, temporary or agency contracts could be at risk outside the EU. And ethnic minorities, largely concentrated in London, are actually more likely to be in insecure or zero hour contracts. So I think we can say with ease that these are not necessarily the groups basking in the great wealths of London.
But enough with the demographics. We could cut the vote in thousand different ways, include gender, race, education and region and create a million new stories. It is clear it is not easy to provide easy and simple explanations for the vote. If we wanted to add property to our interpretation of class, for example, we would see that among private renters and people with mortgages, a small majority (55% and 54%) voted to remain; those who owned their homes outright voted to leave by 55% to 45%.
One thing we can all accept, however, is that a large group of the population has not been satisfied with the country’s situation for a while now. They are in no way stupid to identify that. It would certainly be irresponsible to call them naive for expressing their discontent when their experiences and concerns are absolutely real. Unfortunately, these comments do exist. These comments are not necessarily from the London-liberal elite but have actually been uttered by the Prime Minister saying that ‘there is no magic money tree’.
Leaving opinion of our electorate to a side, one thing we know well is that elections are won on message. Of course other factors do come into play but no wonder we spend so much time and effort in coming up with convincing slogans and attractive headlines. Vote Leave worked with a message of a better future that spoke to the heart of many. Reality has come to bite and Brexiteers will sooner rather than later have to accept that we can’t always get all that we want.
Reports of medicines and food shortages are not ‘scaremongering’ but an unfortunate possibility. Not only that but potential poor regulations with regards to food standards and the environment in a ‘No Deal’ scenario would certainly hurt the poor. The most recent reports show that “demand for NHS staff rises as EU applicants ‘drop off a cliff’” and the reality is that those are all ‘side-effects’ of Brexit that the very rich can avoid. Meanwhile, the poor, NHS patients, are left the suffer with raising prices and poor regulations and unstaffed hospitals. And let’s be honest here, what we have in front of us is not a Lexit utopia but a Tory Brexit with serious calls for a cliff-edge scenario putting the interests of unfettered free market above of any working class interest. That is why I back a People’s Vote and strongly desire for people to make an informed decision on the options in front of them, including proof of over-spending and election fraud by the Leave campaign.
‘Project Fear’, as it has been popularly called, has made the headlines again. The government’s own economic analysis demonstrate Brexit leading to a cut to GDP by some 4%. That’s a loss of over £100bn every year. Less money for public services and the least well-off hurt the most. Perhaps we do put too much focus on what could go wrong. But the reality is that we have already seen companies move elsewhere, car and aeroplane manufacturers show concern over the future of their business and more job uncertainty. Perhaps these are just exaggerated fears, but that is not a gamble the Labour Party should ever be prepared to take on the lives of those who already live in a constant state of vulnerability.
Another area where we require more solidarity as opposed to division is on freedom of movement. EU migrants live and work in this country and don’t know what their future holds. If we, as members of the Labour Party, don’t see that’s a big enough issue, we risk not seeing the privilege unbalances that exist in our workforce. EU migrants have not driven wages down. Austerity policies have done that. Diane Abbott herself said that “If you work in the public sector, your wages weren’t frozen and your pension cut by foreigners. They were slashed by this Government and its austerity predecessors.” As a young trade unionist, I welcome the ‘challenge’, if you so wish to put it this way, that international workers bring to our workforce. Labour has changed and trade unions can and should adapt by producing literature in different languages and informing workers of their rights no matter their backgrounds.
If you are not convinced by this, I would guide you towards this report from CLASS think tank. EU workers are not here as an unfair competition but are facing the same hardship, on top of racism and abuse, as their British working class counterparts. In fact, we are an essential contribution to the UK’s economy and I praise the many nurses who make up the NHS and serve those who need it the most.
Trade unions and trade unionists are also not blind to the damage that Brexit will cause. In 1998, the EU introduced limits on working hours, protecting staff from being overworked. The EU’s Working Time Directive forces employers to give workers sufficient time off, as well as protecting night workers. Women and other minorities who are more likely to get discriminated against at work have similarly benefited from EU rules banning unfair treatment. Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA union makes a positive case for the EU and a customs union when saying that “we must claim back the right to free movement of people. We must reassert [...] that it’s greedy, unscrupulous bosses who exploit and pay low wages – migrants are as much the victims of this as indigenous workers.” Amongst many other reasons, it is no doubt then why so many unions supported the case for remain and now GMB, Prospect, the Royal College of Nursing and Community join calls for a People’s Vote on the final deal.
It is true that changes need to be made and the Labour Party should not be blind to that and indeed we are not. Jeremy Corbyn reasserted his determined views on that at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists in Portugal. Corbyn did not shy away in saying that “we have to recognise that EU support for austerity and failed neoliberal policies have caused serious hardship for working people across Europe, damaged the credibility of European social democratic parties and played a significant role in the vote for Brexit in the UK.” In our Party, we will not be satisfied until we reach these reforms and this can only be done from within. At the end of the day, Labour campaigned for remain because we know that the rights or working class groups have been advanced within the EU. We are a Party with an international outlook and come a General Election or a People’s Vote, I want to see the Labour Party put forward a positive message for the closest possible relationship with the EU, preferably within.