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AS polls open in Britain for European parliamentary elections, which should not be taking place given the vote to leave the European Union on June 23 2016, a debate is taking place online and in the pages of the Morning Star on what attitude the left and the labour movement should adopt to these elections.
For much of the media the main story is the irresistible rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, officially registered in February this year, although its parent company “The Brexit Party Ltd” (TBP) was incorporated on November 23 2018.
The lure for a populist, cross-class alliance of “pro-democracy, free-thinkers” of European elections, habitually treated as an opportunity for a protest vote, is the preferred narrative of both supporters and critics of Farage’s latest vehicle.
However, despite polls showing TBP with a commanding lead of 30 per cent and above over established political parties, the reality is that Farage’s latest vehicle neither represents a meaningful route to implement the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the EU, nor the birth of a new kind of politics.
A YouGov poll on Wednesday May 22 put TBP on 37 per cent, Labour on 13 per cent and the Tories on 7 – yes 7 – per cent. It is clear the Tory vote is deserting Tragic Theresa for Naughty Nigel along with many former Labour voters repelled by the roster of pro-Remain candidates fielded by the Labour party in its quest to be more like the Liberal Democrats.
But this flirtation will not last and furthermore, votes for Farage’s Brexit Party paradoxically will be used to legitimise and endorse the very outcome his voters oppose – Britain remaining a member of the EU.
Catherine Barnard, Professor of EU Law at the University of Cambridge, has argued that even allowing for failure of Theresa May’s government to bring about Britain’s departure from the EU before May 23 2019, it would still have been possible by using Article 50 as a legal basis to extend the existing mandate of current MEPs, to avoid holding European parliamentary elections.
Professor Barnard says that she and her colleagues who advocated this course of action were “dumped on from a great height” for making this argument. The criticism directed at her she says was a political argument, dressed up as a constitutional and democratic one.
“It was part of the politics around Brexit that the EU were using the requirement to have European Parliament elections as a stick to beat the UK with, to try and get them to agree to the Withdrawal Agreement and get it through Parliament by May 22.”
In fact, the decision to proceed with European parliamentary elections, far from being an opportunity for supporters of leaving the EU to rally their forces for a democratic revival, is in reality a carefully calculated and contrived step to legitimise Britain remaining in the EU.
Holding the European Parliament elections in Britain is intended to be seen as a relegitimisation of the European political entity. Farage’s “triumph” in elections that have no meaningful way of taking forward the process of Britain leaving the EU will come to be seen as a pyrrhic victory.
As Professor Barnard points out there’s a paradox too. “Now that we’re going down the route of having European Parliament elections, in fact we can avoid leaving for another five years. If we had gone down my route of saying we just extend the existing MEPs’ mandate for a few months until October , then we would have absolutely had to have been gone by October-time before any serious decisions were being taken by the European Parliament.”
For who in their right minds could imagine that sending Nigel Farage and his hand-picked selection of “ordinary decent democrats” to Brussels to preen themselves and pocket yet more MEPs’ expenses could represent a genuine route to win Britain’s departure from the EU?
We have been here before. Several times in fact. Farage’s Brexit Party will be swallowed without a trace by the halls of Berlaymont. The real fight for a Britain with an economic and internationalist policy independent of EU treaties, laws and institutions, is the fight to win a general election and a left-led Labour government in Britain.
In this respect neither a vote for Farage’s manufactured populists, nor Labour’s parade of Remoaners and centrists, represents a strengthening of the left or the labour movement. Indeed, just as they did following the EU referendum in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in the Parliamentary Labour Party and their hangers-on in the media await the outcome of 2019’s European elections in order to renew their assault on his leadership.
Tomorrow socialists should reject the ballot box as an illegitimate exercise to prolong Britain’s membership of the EU and negate our vote to leave the EU in 2016. An active boycott of these elections is necessary.
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