Home » It shouldn't be if Britain leaves the EU, but when

It shouldn't be if Britain leaves the EU, but when

Image and reality: young male migrants sit around on graffiti-daubed concrete in front of the pretentious logo of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt. Photo rkl_foto/shutterstock.com

Even before an actual day was set for the referendum on membership of the EU, the mongers of doom are predicting disaster if Britain leaves. Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear that the opposite is true…

The eurozone is at a critical stage. Meant to bring the countries of Europe together economically, it has done the opposite. The eurozone economies that we were told were going to converge have diverged. The gap between the northern European countries (principally Germany) and the rest has grown and is growing.

The European Commission says that the EU must integrate or disintegrate. Its president, Jean-Claude Juncker has produced a new report urging progress on four “unions” – economic, financial, fiscal and political – to be achieved by 2025 at the latest.

So unless we vote to leave, we will be subject to a very forceful process of integration, or we will go down with the decline of the eurozone.


Lots of different people are now looking into the fine detail of what leaving would mean. For example in the Netherlands they are talking about Nexit. It is no longer taboo to talk about this subject.

Nicola Sturgeon says “it would be unthinkable for Scotland to leave the EU”. Despite losing the Scottish referendum, she has real difficulty in grasping that people may think differently to herself. If it were true that no one in Scotland would ever contemplate leaving the EU, how come a Scottish constituency in the last European election voted in a UKIP candidate?

Workers make up their own minds. It may not be what you as a trade unionist or a Marxist want them to think, but make up their own minds they will. Scottish RMT members were part of their union’s decision to campaign for an Out vote (see Taking on the union myth-makers). If only more trade unionists were as clear.

Don’t forget we were told that it would be “unthinkable” not to join the euro, and the sweet irony is that now nobody is giving that idea a second thought.

So exit is not unthinkable – lots of people are thinking about it, right across Britain including Scotland and Wales.

Fleeing investors?

You may have heard the refrain about “fleeing investors” from several quarters. The Confederation of British Industry likes to say it at regular intervals – not altogether surprising when you consider it gets a substantial amount of its funding from the EU.

In 2013 the chief executive officer of Nissan said “Nissan will reconsider its investment in the UK if Britain leaves the EU”. But then on 3 Sept 2015 Nissan announced £100 million investment in the Sunderland plant, which will secure its future beyond 2020.

So not only are they not withholding investment ahead of the referendum, they are happy to make a commitment for beyond that period. Tim Tozer, until recently managing director of Vauxhall, said a British exit would not cause “trouble” for the company or its parent General Motors. Employing 35,000 people in Britain, it would continue to build its Astra model here.

Some 85 per cent of Nissan vehicles produced in Britain are exported, the bulk of them to the European market. But on the CBI’s own website it now states: “While the European market is important, growth there is constrained and Nissan is placing a growing emphasis on emerging markets.”

‘For many investors it will make no difference.’

In one major independent study of North American and Asian investors one of the survey questions was, “If the UK renegotiated its relationship with the EU to be less integrated would that make you more or less inclined to invest?” - and the answer was “more” inclined to invest.

As for the financial sector, the City of London, we were once told that if we did not join the euro, financial services would suffer terribly. Not so. For many reasons (many of them things which concern us greatly) investment in the unregulated London financial market will continue.

In short, for many investors it will make no difference, and some will see a Britain “untied from the EU” as more attractive.


A lot of Britain’s trade is with Europe. It is today and was for a very long time before we joined the EU. And our trade has grown because now the EU has 28 countries in it. But as a proportion of our total exports the share going to the EU is going down and has been going down for two decades.

Put simply, dependence on trade with the EU is a bad thing for us as a trading nation: we must diversify. This applies in capitalist economic terms, and if we as workers had economic control we too would need to look across the world to trade our goods.

Another sweet irony is that those of us who want to leave the EU are told that we are “little Englanders”, when in fact it is those of us who want to leave the EU who see the need to trade with Brazil, India, China and Russia.

Britain will still continue to trade with EU countries – including Ireland, of course – and they with us. A big incentive for the EU countries is that they export more to us than we to them.

Britain is actually Germany’s biggest export market. We do like a Volkswagen apparently, even when they have been fiddling their figures on emissions! Why would they put us out in the cold, when they want us to buy their stuff?

EU and peace

Another myth is that the EU has kept the peace in Europe. Has it? Its origins don’t encourage that idea. It was the Nazis who in 1942 first coined the phrase “European Economic Community” (EEC), or Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft as they called it.

The EEC as envisaged then was to form one single empire based around Germany. The idea had been simmering in fascist circles for some time, and continued to. There is a picture of Oswald Mosley from the British Union of Fascists standing on a plinth in Trafalgar Square with the strap line “Europe a Nation” and an array of European flags behind him.

‘Let’s reclaim the words Europe and European from the disastrous EU.’

Germany’s first chancellor after the end of the Second World War, Konrad Adenauer, said: “a federated Europe will be a third force. Germany has again become a factor with which others will have to reckon. If we Europeans colonise Africa we create at the same time a supplier of raw materials for Europe.”

Then look at what has actually happened: modern historians call the period from the end of the Second World War to now as a time of “intervention”, when formerly independent countries such as Iraq or Libya were bombed by meddling outside forces who then left a horrendous patch of lawless territory for so-called “insurgents”, often funded and supplied with weapons, to fill the vacuum. The EU was certainly party to the US-led NATO interventions and their aftermath.

In Europe there was the break-up of Yugoslavia. NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, supported by the EU, was an illegal attack on a sovereign state. Remember that Germany was the first country to recognise Croatia as an independent country – an important trigger in that conflict.

Fast forward to 2013 and Ukraine. The EU wanted the elected government of Ukraine to sign an EU association agreement. That government thought it was a rotten deal and said it wanted to review its options and talk to other countries such as Russia about a better deal. The EU then backed a fascist-led uprising against the elected government. So the EU has fomented war in the Balkans, and on its Eastern border with Ukraine.

Let’s reclaim the words Europe and European from the disastrous political project that is the EU and the eurozone.

Let’s remember that across the continent there are people like us contemplating and working out the final detail of what it would mean to leave the disastrous project behind and reclaim their sovereignty and democracy. There is a great deal of work to be done in the trade union movement to get clarity on this question. Let’s be inspired by the debate at the RMT AGM in June 2015.


This article is a shortened version of a speech given at a CPBML meeting in Conway Hall on 22 September