Why this trade unionist is excited about leaving the EU and the suffocating mechanisms of the single market

by Fawzi Ibrahim

Never before had the British people given such a clear instruction to the government to pursue a specific course of action as they did on 23rd June. The government had no choice but to heed this unequivocal instruction to leave the EU – a clean break and not some half-way house, a fake Brexit in which we remain subservient to the EU’s core institutions including the single market and its equally controlling customs union.

And of course the apocalypse threatened by the Remain campaign has not come to pass. The economy is far from sliding into recession, but is growing and the pound has at last found its true level from its artificially inflated value. That helps our exports. Together with price inflation climbing to the target level of 2%, Brexit has already been a success. It is true, though, that Brexit will not be painless; but those who bargained that such misgivings would make people vote to Remain in the EU have badly miscalculated and there won’t be the hoped-for buyers’ remorse either, precisely because sovereignty is not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.

Labelling those who voted to Leave ‘the left behind’, as the metropolitan elite is so fond of doing, is arrogant and insulting: it presumes that those ‘left behind’ are full of envy and wish for nothing more than to catch up with those who have made it in the frantic dog-chasing-tail globalised economy – when in fact they desire something different altogether, something more civilised and more decent.

The EU referendum has actually brought about a fundamental change in our political discourse. The promises-based dialogue between the main political parties on the one hand and the electorate on the other, where, at general elections, the electorate is treated much like a child being promised a treat by a parent, will no longer suffice. A discourse that treats people as victims – passive recipients rather than participants in shaping their own future and that of their country – is no longer adequate. The vote at the referendum put paid to that. The question is not who promises more but who has a credible and comprehensive plan for a rebalanced industrial economy that works for the UK – and if that involves some hardship, so be it. We are grown-ups and we can take it.

The Brexit vote has forced the government, the opposition, other political parties, the TUC and others to come out with economic and industrial strategies for the UK as it redefines itself in the world, something that could not even be contemplated let alone put into practice had we remained a member of the EU. Theresa May very quickly abandoned Cameron/Osborne austerity economics and several of their cherished policies while announcing a new industrial strategy.

The Labour Party followed suit and the TUC released theirs at the conclusion of its Congress in Brighton this year. And they are not alone. Go to any social or political gathering and invariably the future of the UK as an industrial nation, its trading relationship with other countries and its role in the world are common themes. Such debates are no longer the preserve of the political elite, the self-appointed ‘opinion formers’ or TV pundits.

The trade unions are among those best placed to play a role in formulating policy as they have the knowledge and expertise of their industries. Such discussions are taking place at meetings of trade union branches and regions all over the country. And we don’t have to wait for our official EU exit in another two or more years’ time to take advantage of our new-found freedom. Such things as state aid, procurement policies that give preference to British business and re-claiming our fishing rights ought to be put into effect immediately. The Government’s guarantees to Nissan is just one such example.

The need for a clean break with the EU is obvious because planning would not be possible if we ‘leave’ the EU but remain in the single market with its suffocating mechanisms embodied in the four ‘freedoms of movement’: freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and labour. The most pernicious of these is the free movement of labour for it conjures up images of breaking chains and setting workers free when the facts are precisely the opposite. The ‘freedom’ of movement of labour is a misnomer. A more accurate description would be the ‘enforced’ movement of labour.

Does anyone think that the Polish lad who cleans windows in north London or the young Romanians standing at the corner of Cricklewood Lane in Brent every morning hoping for a day’s work cleaning an office or labouring on a building site, when asked by their teachers what their future ambitions were, replied that they wanted to leave their families, their village and their country, travel thousands of miles to a foreign land, the language of which they do not speak, to do a menial task for a wage far below the minimum wage?

The freedom of movement of labour is double-edged: not only does it put pressure on wages, working conditions and social services of the countries receiving the immigrants’ labour; it also hollows out the countries the immigrant labour left behind, draining them of their major asset – the working population.

Brexit has opened up opportunities for us to shape our future and the future of the UK. Such opportunities are very rare. They come but once in a lifetime. The last time such an opportunity presented itself was at the end of the Second World War. On that occasion, the people created the welfare state, the NHS, social housing and the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. This time, let’s aim even higher.