By Fiona Edwards
Since the EU referendum in June and the close victory for the Leave campaign, British politics has been dominated by the issue of Brexit. Given the enormous and absolutely disastrous implications of Brexit for Britain – spanning all areas of public life from the economy to education and our freedom of movement – this issue will continue to dominate British politics for months and years to come. Given that Brexit is the main issue in British politics, the main question that the student movement therefore faces is the following: should we embrace, accept, live with, or fight against Brexit? The Student Broad Left believes that the student movement’s priority number one must be to fight relentlessly to stop Brexit as this is essential to defending education and the living standards of students, the working class and all oppressed groups in society.
In light of the fact that Brexit will make the majority of society much poorer, it is the responsibility of the left to mount a serious campaign to stop it – students should play their part in this.
The consequences of the Brexit vote
Since the referendum in June there has been a sharp and nasty turn in British politics. Theresa May’s Tory government has set a hateful, divisive and racist agenda. Racist and xenophobic hate crime has soared. In the two months following the Brexit referendum the weekly number of reported hate crimes was on average 32% higher than the equivalent period last year. We know, as the police themselves admit, that the overwhelming majority of hate crime is not reported to the police. The authorities have since stopped publishing hate crime figures. But the toxic and racist political climate will continue to fuel racist and xenophobic attacks.
As a result of the Brexit vote the British pound fell by 15%. This devaluation of the currency is in the process of working its way through with inflation rising and set to rise over the coming months. The pound falling means that the international purchasing power of the pound declines – a very significant issue for people’s living standards in Britain due to the fact that Britain imports an enormous amount of goods. Prices are already rising and will continue to do so – for example the cost of food is going up, goods manufactured abroad and spending money for foreign holidays too. In increasing the cost of living, the devaluation of the pound reduces living standards for the majority of society.
Elsewhere in the economy, some decisions on investment have been put on hold because of the uncertainty of the economic arrangements that will exist after Brexit. This will be having an impact on jobs.
The government is anticipating that the public finances will be hugely adversely affected by the fall in immigration as a result of the referendum vote – that is even before there are any possible changes to freedom of movement in the final Brexit terms negotiated by the British government with the EU 27 countries.
But Brexit has not happened yet – this rise in racism and fall in living standards is just the fallout from the vote of an advisory referendum. A car is speeding towards a cliff edge but has not yet crashed off the cliff. What will happen if the car actually goes over the cliff edge?
The consequences of Brexit itself? Crashing living standards and soaring racism
If Brexit actually happens the consequences will be disastrous for the majority of people in Britain.
The Prime Minister Theresa May’s “hard Brexit” which will see Britain leave the Single Market and the ending freedom of movement would be particularly disastrous.
Leaving the Single Market, something which the Leave campaign repeatedly said was not on the table in the run up to the referendum, would have a devastating impact on the economy. The huge damage that leaving the Single Market would cause does not have a democratic mandate. Austerity would deepen, jobs would be lost and the standard of living for the majority of society would fall.
Leaving the EU’s Single market would mean Britain leaving a market of 500 million people and walking away from being part of some very successful trade deals with more than 60 other countries, to instead become a market of 64 million people which will be “going it alone” and starting from scratch as an isolated economy. In leaving the Single Market, Britain will be in a weak position to negotiate trade deals, being forced to except the terms of bigger economies and also confronting the fact that it takes an average of 28 months to agree a trade deal – leaving Britain to operate under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
In such a situation, there is a huge risk that businesses will withdraw investment or relocate their operations entirely to be part of a larger market – namely the EU – and avoid extra the costs associated with being based in Britain, such as tariffs to export their goods outside of Britain. This will lead to huge job losses and a fall in real incomes. The implications for the future job prospects of young people are obviously much diminished such a situation.
Ending freedom of movement for people would also have disastrous implications for Britain’s economy and society. Contrary to racist and xenophobic myths, immigration is hugely beneficial – immigrants create jobs and boost economic growth and there is no evidence that immigrants lower wages. Our NHS, our universities and so many more vital public services depend of immigrants to keep them going. An end to freedom of movement means losing vital skilled workers who nurse us back to health, teach us and build our houses. Freedom of movement is a workers’ right, and ending it will have a massively detrimental impact on British citizens too who wish to live, study and work anywhere in the EU.
If Brexit goes ahead there is a huge danger that there will be a further escalation of racism. In the wake of the inevitable economic disaster that Brexit will cause, the Tory government is likely to further step up blaming immigrants and other scapegoats for their own failures.
Brexit is an attack on education and international students
Brexit is an enormous threat to education. Universities currently receive 15% of their funding from the EU. Losing this will have a hugely detrimental impact – jobs and courses will be cut and some universities may struggle to survive. Disgracefully, the rights of the 43,000 UK university staff and the 125,000 students from EU countries to stay in Britain are to be used as a bargaining chip by the Tories in forthcoming negotiations with EU leaders.
Students Against Brexit
The fight against Brexit is far from over. The Remain side narrowly lost an advisory referendum in June, against a Leave campaign based on racism, lies and a false promise of £350 million extra per week for the NHS. Yet months after the vote, the terms upon which Britain is to leave the EU are still to be negotiated by the Tory government. To those who say “you’ve lost, get over it”, here is a couple of points in response. Firstly, it’s not just the 48% who voted Remain that stand to lose out from Brexit – it’s something which threatens the living standards of the majority of society and that is not something the left can or will accept without a fight. Secondly, in a democratic society losing one election or vote does not settle a matter once and for all – if that was the case why have regular General Elections, and why fight against an elected government of the day?
Once the government has negotiated the terms of Brexit it is important that people are given the opportunity to accept or reject them. A referendum on the actual exit terms would be entirely democratic. Without such a referendum, Brexit will never a democratic mandate.
The fight against Brexit is a fight to defend the living standards of the working class and all oppressed groups in society, it’s a struggle against isolationist little Englandism, bigotry, racism and xenophobia. It’s a fight to stay in the Single Market, to defend freedom of movement which is a workers’ right, to safeguard all of the progressive social gains and defend education.
Students Against Brexit is a new campaign which is arguing that “remaining in the EU is the best way to defend our education system and the prosperity of the whole of society from the present racism and austerity.” You can join the campaign here.