Brexit Could Open Up Space for European Left

Andy Storey

Andy Storey is a lecturer in political economy at University College Dublin and a board member of human rights group Action from Ireland (Afri).

What are the likely economic consequences for Ireland of Britain voting to leave the EU?

Most obviously, the possible re-imposition of passport controls and/or customs barriers between Ireland the UK (including on the border between North and South) would impose increased trade">costs, as well as having potentially important political implications (symbolically, at the very least).

Largely for this reason, think tank Open Europe has estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, Irish economic output could, because of Brexit, be 3.1 percent lower in 2030 than would otherwise have been the case.

But some commentators think that Britain will simply be able to sign up to the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), as Switzerland, Norway, and others have done, meaning that any disruption to Ireland-UK trade would be minimal.

On the other hand, if an EFTA-style arrangement is not put in place, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) research suggests that one positive consequence for Ireland of Brexit might be foreign investors choosing Dublin over London on the grounds that we would have guaranteed access to the European market in a way that Britain would not.

However, the same ESRI research notes that already-scheduled cuts in British corporation profits tax could shift the balance back towards Britain as an attractive investment location.

And Irish banks (which garner about 20 percent of their revenue from the UK) would, the Central Bank estimates, be damaged by anything that slowed British economic growth, as Brexit might well do.

We are in the realm of speculation here obviously and nobody knows for sure how this will all pan out. But speculation can be stimulating, especially if we extend the argument to the wider political arena.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), the dominant force in Scottish politics, has said that a vote for Brexit would be sufficient grounds for the holding of another referendum on independence for Scotland – on the basis that most Scots will probably vote to remain in the EU.

According to SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, “The prospect of Brexit would definitely lead to growing demand for Scottish independence [within the EU]. If we see that growing demand, no one would have the right to stand in the way of that.”

Given the narrow nature of the margin against independence for Scotland in the referendum in 2014, it is entirely possible that Brexit might thus help bring about the disintegration of the UK itself.

Scottish independence would, in turn, galvanise separatist movements in Catalonia and elsewhere. And while Scots and Catalans might vote to stay in the EU, angry electorates elsewhere could choose to follow the British example and press the exit button.

The case for Brexit in the UK is being led by the right, but it largely feeds on resentment against an undemocratic and arrogant EU, and that resentment is wholly justified.

I have written here before about the EU’s role in undermining workers’ rights. More broadly, the EU is, for the most part, imposing a right-wing economic model on Europe.

The mechanisms through which it does this include the Fiscal Treaty (which blocks countries’ abilities to reflate their economies through Keynesian deficit spending) and the negotiation of trade and investment agreements that lock in the rights of corporations.

The EU’s role in subverting the democratic mandate (for an end to austerity) of Greece’s Syriza party, and its related">insistence on pauperising the peripheral countries of Europe (including Ireland) in the name of debt repayment, have added fuel to the fire of popular anger against it.

Most recently, the EU’s shabby refugee deal with Turkey has seen human rights sacrificed for the sake of economic self-interest and political expediency.

Britain will certainly move to the right if Brexit comes about. But if it were to represent a first step towards the break-up of the EU as a whole, then it could open up spaces for progressive, left-leaning national governments, including in Ireland, to escape from the straitjacket of EU neoliberalism. That would be a very exciting prospect indeed.

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Andy Storey: Andy Storey is a lecturer in political economy at University College Dublin and a board member of human rights group Action from Ireland (Afri).

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Michael Bourke
at 15 June 2016 at 19:27

“But if it were to represent a first step towards the break-up of the EU as a whole, then it could open up spaces for progressive, left-leaning national governments, including in Ireland”

Interesting points to daydream on. If the black dog of fascism wasn’t barking at several doors across the continent it might even be worth a second thought.

However distasteful and neoliberal the EU may be (and it is), the vacuum caused by its collapse would be filled by the Right as the incumbents in most member states. The Left is unorganised, unforgiving of its cousins and sadly unloved across too much of the continent, especially in Ireland.

The Pandora’s box that Brexit unleashes will dash any daydreams that suggest otherwise. Flirting with Brexit is flirting with disaster.

Tom O'Connor
at 16 June 2016 at 11:11

My first thought was similar to Michael Bourke’s – dream on Andy! But…. Sanders in the USA, Corbyn in UK Labour, Podemos about to become the 2nd party in Spain, Syriza who put up a good fight, Die Linke in Germany and others – there is hope! Yes, the radical left are weak in Ireland but the right in the form of FG and FF are slimming down and hopefully will be forced into a single party in the future. Where is the Right2Change’s voice gone?

D.R.O'Connor Lysaght.
at 19 June 2017 at 17:11

I would not bet on a progressive result from breaking up the EU. That it is undemocratic is certain but denunciations of its lack of democracy from the likes of Nigel Farage remind me of Churchill’s denunciations of Indian independence in the name of the Dalits.
The EU is not yet a superstate. A progressive government can defy it (as Syriza failed to do) and get itself kicked out on a progressive way rather than the regressive one followed by the Brexiteers.
Certainly if Ireland followed the simple abandonment of the EU it would find itself in a pincher movement super-exploited by the Imperial powers of USA and Uk.

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