Why Brexit Had Left-Wing as well as Right-Wing Supporters
The arguments for Brexit can be somewhat confusing and contradictory, as Brexit received support from both sides of the political spectrum. The right-wing reasons for Britain leaving the EU have, yet, been most prevalent in the media and post-Brexit discussion, and thus Brexit is perceived as a victory for the British right.
Right-wing politicians such as the leader of the UKIP party Nigel Farrage have largely focused on the need for tighter immigration policy to the UK from other EU countries. Another common argument among intellectuals on the British right, in particular conservative politicians and former leaders of the Leave campaign such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, is that over the past few decades, a series of EU treaties have shifted power from individual member states to the central EU Bureaucracy in Brussels, and the EU thus threatens British sovereignty. Critics of this view have suggested that this desire for the UK to once again be independent reflects a Little England mentality which harkens back to the days of the British Empire and the UK “imperial glory”. A further, prevailing right-wing argument is that the EU is holding the UK back in tiresome regulations; according to Gove, these regulations cost the British economy £600 million every week.
Left-wing reasons for a Brexit, what is referred to in the media as Lexit, have slipped under the radar somewhat. Nevertheless, Brexit was not just a success for the political right, as many left-wing voters also cast a vote to leave. This may come as a surprise to some, as the EU has brought back various protections for the environment, consumers, and workers to the UK. For example, the implementation of the EU Working Time Directive in 1998 introduced the statutory right to paid leave in the UK. Before this, British workers did not receive paid holiday.
Why then, did some far left-wingers such as my brother, vote to leave the EU? From a radical perspective, left-wingers argue that the EU prevents the British left from making radical reforms, and rather serves to entrench corporate interests. Proponents of this view believe the EU gives the corporate elites too much power and creates an environment for monopoly corporations and tax-dodging elites. Writing over 100 years ago, Lenin stated that a United Nations of Europe would be “only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe” and to serve as a reactionary entity. Many left-wingers agree that this statement holds true for the EU, which they see as a quintessential imperialist club, enabling the upper classes to safeguard their imperialist interests against those of other countries, as well as against the interests of the working-class of their own countries.
Support for Lexit comes from a more general critique of elite institutions, including the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank. Let’s take the situation in Greece, for example. Radical left-wingers may view the Greek financial crisis as a crisis of European proportions, and part of the 21st-century mission of the elite to place institutions and policy above the interests of society. The new EU-IMF austerity programme in Greece imposes neoliberal policies and a right-wing position on economic thinking on Greece, a country which actually elected a Socialist government in 2009. Left-wing supporters of Brexit take this as evidence that the EU violates democracy and panders to the interests of the international banks and corporate elites.
So although Brexit is widely perceived to be a success for the British right-wing, anti-immigrant and, at its worst, xenophobic segments of society, many left-wingers view the result as a victory for Socialism and a step forward in the struggle for a non-capitalist society.
By Sophie Tanno