Top Menu

Dear Reader, we make this and other articles available for free online to serve those unable to afford or access the print edition of Monthly Review. If you read the magazine online and can afford a print subscription, we hope you will consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.

Learning from Brexit

A Socialist Stance Toward the European Union

Theresa May "HMS Brexit" Stunt

Theresa May "HMS Brexit" Stunt Theresa May steers HMS Brexit towards an iceberg outside parliament, with only a People's Vote life ring to save her (January 15, 2019). Photo credit: Avaaz (Flickr).

Costas Lapavitsas’s The Left Case Against the EU (Polity, 2019) is recognized as the leading work advocating Lexit, the left-wing case for Brexit, and for nations leaving the European Union more generally. In light of current Conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to exit the European Union by October 31, even if it means a no-deal Brexit, the role of the left takes on growing importance. Moreover, this raises issues of the European Union generally, including the dominance of neoliberalism within it and the question of German hegemony. Given the importance of these issues, we are publishing two assessments of Lapavitsas’s book followed by his extensive response.

  1. Socialist Internationalism Against the European Union” by Neil Davidson.
  2. Navigating the Brexit Strait” by Andy Storey.
  3. Learning from Brexit” by Costas Lapavitsas.

the Editors

Costas Lapavitsas is Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. In January 2015, he was elected to the Greek Parliament with the incoming Syriza government, but left in August 2015 when the third bailout was signed. His research over the last several years has focused on the eurozone and the financialization of capitalism. He is the author of many books, most recently Capitalism in the Ottoman Balkans with Pinar Cakiroglu (London: I.B. Tauris, 2019), The Left Case Against the EU (Cambridge: Polity, 2019), and Against the Troika with Heiner Flassbeck (London: Verso, 2015).

The Political Problem of the European Union for the Left

In assessing my book, The Left Case Against the EU, Neil Davidson and Andy Storey posed crucial questions for the left.1 Both agreed fully that socialists should take a critical approach toward the European Union (EU) and even more so toward the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). But they also, separately, asked several questions: Should a left government with a transformative socialist program choose to exit these transnational behemoths? Assuming that exiting is a valid choice for EMU members, is this also true for countries that are only EU members? If states were to exit the EU, would national concerns and aims dominate socialist internationalism? And if a key aim of exiting is to regain national and popular sovereignty, would that be tantamount to immigration controls, thus in practice negating working-class internationalism and strengthening racism?

These are burning issues for the United Kingdom caught in the grip of withdrawing from the EU (Brexit). For three years after the referendum of 2016 that resulted in a narrow majority of votes in favor of leaving the EU, the Conservative Party (Tory) government fell into a state of near paralysis, failing to implement the decision to leave. In 2019, the political mechanisms of Britain spectacularly misfired as former Prime Minister Theresa May was unable to push her proposed deal with the EU through Parliament and eventually had to resign. The turmoil led to the meteoric rise of the new right-wing populist Brexit Party that triumphed in the European elections of May 2019, while both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, the main parties of government, performed poorly. Boris Johnson—ex-Mayor of London, ex-Foreign Minister, informal head of the Leave campaign during the referendum, and arch-political opportunist—subsequently emerged as new leader of the Tory party and British Prime Minister. The prospect of the United Kingdom exiting the EU without a deal suddenly looked plausible.

During this period, much of the social democratic left of England and Wales moved toward the position of Remaining and Reforming the EU on the grounds that exiting would be disastrous for workers and the poor. Confusion about the nature of the EU was enormous and the rhetoric deployed at times almost Manichaean. Indeed, the social democratic left was often reminiscent of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, who thought of the EU as the embodiment of “Western political civilisation” no less.2

Remarkably, even some of the radical left in England and Wales adopted a position close to Remain and Reform on the grounds that exiting the EU is a right-wing project. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, meanwhile, the bulk of both the social democratic and the radical left have long supported Remain and Reform in the hope of delivering a blow to English nationalism and loosening the grip of the British state. In this environment, the radical left supporting a left-wing Leave has lacked fire and failed to gain a foothold in the national debate. Such has been its political weakness that some radicals, desperate to leave, have even sided with the new Brexit Party.3

The travails of Brexit are thus of first importance for the European left. The dilemma of Leave versus Remain and Reform is widespread across a large number of countries, shaping other major questions, including migration, austerity, and inequality. Brexit poses the most important political challenge for the European left since the debacle of Syriza in 2015. The issue of the EU is likely to get harder in the immediate future as the European elections of May 2019 confirmed the strong presence of the right and the far right in a range of countries, including Italy, Germany, France, and Britain. They also confirmed the complete disarray of the left.

To answer Davidson’s and Storey’s questions, Brexit must be considered in some detail. The first step is briefly to sum up the current state of the EU, bringing out the implications for sovereignty, democracy, and radical social change.

Nation-States and the European Union

A central argument of The Left Case Against the EU is that the EU remains a treaty-based alliance among sovereign nation-states, while also possessing its own transnational institutions. The EU is unthinkable without the nation-states that have created it. When seen in this light, two analytical points become immediately relevant.

First, member states have transferred the ostensible locus of harsh economic and social decisions onto the transnational institutions of the EU, thus gaining an important domestic political advantage for each member state’s ruling bloc. This is a well-understood point about the EU. Second, and much less appreciated, is that the EU is riven with hierarchical relations among member states, but these are deflected through the transnational institutions that formally speak the language of solidarity and partnership.

Within the institutions of the EU, dominant national powers maneuver relative to each other, while lesser powers attempt to offset the influence—and attract the support—of dominant powers. This characteristic feature of the EU can create the impression that it aims (consciously or unconsciously) to transgress, or overcome, the nation-state. This is a plain fallacy. The EU cannot be detached from its creators, the sovereign European nation-states. Nonetheless, it has significantly altered sovereignty relations among member states, creating contradictory outcomes of governing that are analyzed below.

The Greek disaster offers valuable insight into these issues.4 In 2010, the bankrupt Greek state found itself obliged to negotiate with the troika of the EU Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (invited by the EU). It appeared that the country was confronted by transnational bodies, and in a formal sense that was correct. The Greek ruling bloc was able to blame the troika for the harsh successive bailout agreements, even if the ruling bloc never significantly diverged from the troika and largely welcomed its policies.

In truth, the Greek state was confronted by the German and (less so) the French states, which related to it in an essentially imperial manner. However, both Germany and France found it advantageous to channel their actions via the mechanisms of the EU. In doing so, they had to comply with the internal logic of the EU institutions, thus inevitably compromising with other member states and with each other. This compromise conferred a considerable advantage to both since the policies that hobbled the sovereignty of Greece were presented as decisions taken by the transnational mechanisms of Brussels. Imperial ascendancy hid behind a language of alliance.

The Greek disaster also illuminates the neoliberal transformation of the EU and the corresponding change in the role of member states. The European Economic Community (EEC) was established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957 at a time when Keynesian economic intervention and welfare provision were dominant policy-forming ideologies among advanced capitalist states.5 The EEC was, moreover, a geopolitical entity supported by the United States to act as counterweight to the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. It became the EU through the 1992 Treaty on European Union, often referred to as the Maastricht Treaty, at a time when government intervention was considered inherently problematic, welfare provision faced sustained attack, and the ideology of the free market rose triumphantly. The expressed political will of the Greek people and the sovereignty of the Greek nation-state were wrecked by the neoliberal EU that emerged after Maastricht.

The neoliberal institutional transformation of the EU can be neatly summed up in two terms: single market and single currency. Both are integral parts of a whole and not nearly as different in their implications for a radical socialist government as Storey suggests. Furthermore, the Maastricht Treaty was signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, which critically affected the geopolitical dimension of the EU. The content of both the single market and the single currency should be briefly recapped, not least to begin to tackle the questions of internationalism and open borders, stressed especially by Davidson.

The Single Market: Four Freedoms and Sovereignty

The single market provides the regulatory framework for commercial and other transactions in the EU based on the four freedoms, namely the freedom to move money, goods, services, and people (labor) across internal borders. These freedoms were also postulated in the Treaty of Rome, but the Maastricht Treaty restated them as individual rights, thus turning them into legal principles that inherently favor neoliberalism and determine the character of the key institutions of the EU.

The four freedoms are backed by the EU treaties but also by an enormous body of legislation initiated by the Commission and given force primarily by the (unelected) Council of Ministers and, to a much smaller extent, the European Parliament, further including directives, regulations, and decisions issued by the Council, the ECB, and other EU bodies. EU law is interpreted and applied by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and takes precedence over national legislation, which is in principle expected to become homogeneous with EU law.

It is notable that the four freedoms correspond precisely to the fundamental components of the circuit of capital, that is, the theoretical summation of the economic motion of capital proposed by Karl Marx: M–C…C–M.6 Capital starts as money, buys commodity inputs (goods and services) and labor power, turns these into commodity output (goods and services), and finally returns to money by selling the output. The four freedoms relate to the ability of capital to assume freely all its fundamental forms within the borders of the EU. Coupled with the EU Customs Union, which sets tariffs for trading with countries outside the Union, the single market ultimately determines the framework for improved capital profitability across Europe.

The four freedoms are deeply contradictory and act as constraints on actual freedom. This is apparent with reference to the freedom of labor to move, an individual right that has nothing to do with genuine internationalism. The right of freedom of movement within the EU is necessarily circumscribed by its opposite—the inability of workers to move into the EU from the outside. It is a policy aimed at the profitability of European capital, allowing for the employment of EU workers often under poor wages and working conditions, while excluding African and Asian workers. Freedom of movement sustains the exclusionary Fortress Europe.

The four freedoms aim to standardize the fundamental markets of the circuit of capital across member states, and hence inevitably impact national sovereignty within the EU. In this respect, sovereignty refers to relations among states and not relations between states and markets, nor states and economic agents. It is well known in Marxist literature that nation-states homogenize the institutional framework of domestic markets (contract law, weights and measures, payment practices, and so on) by imposing constraints on domestic and foreign economic agents. At the same time, nation-states are obliged to recognize the material realities of domestic and international capitalist accumulation, both of which set limits to what an individual state can do. These limits are unrelated to national sovereignty and merely demarcate the power of individual states. Sovereignty is about relations among states, which naturally have different degrees of power relative to markets. It can neither be limited by markets nor capitalist enterprises, but only by another state.

In any system of states, furthermore, the will of one is inevitably demarcated by that of the others. Mutual recognition of will is a condition for independent participation in the international system of states. States are independent and sovereign when they are in command of their will, while being cognizant of that of others. Sovereignty is jeopardized when a state is forced to submit to the will of another. The ultimate sanction is, of course, war. The long history of capitalist states points to the norm of the international system in this regard: sovereignty is continually contested, leading to hierarchical and imperial relations. Capitalist states typically exist in international formations characterized by a core and peripheries, which inherently contain hegemony and limit the sovereignty of peripheral states as a matter of course.

If it is to accomplish the homogenization of the fundamental markets of the circuit of capital across its territory, the EU must ensure that each member state alters its domestic institutional arrangements of capitalist accumulation at least in law but also in practice. It follows immediately that joining the single market entails some loss of sovereignty by member states to the institutions of the EU. The question that inevitably arises is: What are the class and hegemonic interests involved?

Member states of the EU ostensibly pool sovereignty and the principle of so-called subsidiarity prevails. They willingly surrender some of their sovereignty to EU institutions to facilitate key decisions on issues crucial to the homogeneous functioning of capital across borders. At the same time, the ruling bloc of each member state participates in the decision-making processes of EU institutions. Member states retain sovereignty over lesser (subsidiary) issues that would not directly affect EU market homogeneity.

Crucially, these arrangements contain relations of hierarchy. The supposed pooling of sovereignty facilitates the imposition of the will of dominant states onto others, particularly since relations of core and periphery have become entrenched in the EU during the decades of neoliberalism. Thus, there is a contradiction of governing in the EU: if the core is to serve its domestic interests and sustain its ascendancy within the single market, it must accept some loss of sovereignty to the institutions of the EU. This holds even for the hegemonic country, Germany, which constantly navigates the labyrinthine rules of the EU, necessarily complying with the internal logic of EU institutions as it seeks to impose its will on others.

The contest for sovereignty among member states is fought primarily within the EU institutions that buttress the single market. Some sovereignty is lost by all, while at the same time hierarchical and hegemonic relations are exacerbated. This profoundly contradictory political development is the result of homogenizing capitalist accumulation across Europe via the four freedoms. The loss of sovereignty as the price of hierarchical domination by core countries has created a raft of deep political problems even for Germany. These problems lie at the heart of the political crisis of Brexit.

Single Currency: Hegemony and Democracy

The single currency is a crucial complement of the single market. Neoliberalism permeates EMU institutions sustaining the euro—the ECB, the Eurogroup, the European Stability Mechanism, and so on. Money is the commodity par excellence as well as the nexus rerum of capitalist society, and thus the requirements for a group of states to share the same money are exceptionally demanding. One of the first manifestations of national independence is command over domestic money, while an early expression of subordination is to lose it. The implications of the EMU for sovereignty are profound, as can be seen by briefly considering two of its pillars, namely fiscal discipline and central banking.

First, the institutional framework of the euro rests on fiscal discipline imposed on member states through the Stability and Growth Pact as well as through a series of severe additional regulations introduced after the outbreak of the eurozone crisis in 2010, such as the Fiscal Compact of 2012. These are mechanisms of austerity aimed at preventing large public deficits that might lead to uncontrolled growth of public debt that could raise the specter of default. Since the EU is a treaty-based alliance of sovereign states, the burden of debt of one cannot in principle be carried by another. State default must be prevented and, if it occurs, the losses must be borne by the defaulting state or private lenders. It is instructive to remember that the Fiscal Compact was signed by all EU members, whether in the EMU or not. The only exceptions are the United Kingdom and Denmark, but even for these countries the neoliberal disciplining effect of the Fiscal Compact is not entirely avoided, as is subsequently shown for Britain.

Second, the euro relies on the ECB—the pivot of the Eurosystem in which all national central banks participate—to provide coherence to its functioning. The main concern of this central banking framework is control of inflation as well as supervision and stability of banks across Europe. The ECB dictates monetary policy and generates the ultimate form of liquidity for payments and reserves across the EMU. Furthermore, since the eurozone crisis, it has assumed command over the Single Supervisory Mechanism that regulates banking not only in the EMU but across the EU. This unelected and essentially unaccountable institution has accrued extraordinary power since its inception.

There is no doubt that countries that are not in the EMU have retained several degrees of freedom compared to those deploying the euro. They can, for instance, operate monetary and exchange rate policy with significant independence. It is not surprising, therefore, that their economic performance has generally been better than that of EMU members trapped in the austerity mechanisms of the common currency. But it is not true that there is an unbridgeable gap between the two—the broader framework of the euro also affects the fiscal policy and the financial operations of countries not in the EMU.

The single currency has helped entrench neoliberalism while promoting divergence among member states by, above all, fostering the emergence of core and peripheries across the EU. The core—primarily Germany and France—sets the terms of functioning for the EMU and thus broadly for the EU. Through the single currency, Germany has emerged as the hegemon, its ascendancy drawing on industrial strength and, even more, suppressing domestic wages and worsening labor conditions to gain competitiveness. France has a heavily financialized economy that cannot compete with Germany.

German hegemony is, nonetheless, conditional since it depends on the mechanisms of the EU. It is not the power of German capital that has generated its hegemony and it is not German hegemony that has created the mechanisms of the EU. Germany has emerged hegemonic via the mechanisms of the EU itself. This is the reason why the German ruling bloc is the strongest supporter of the EU and Germany is the true home of so-called Europeanism. Germany must accept some loss of sovereignty to the mechanisms of the EU in order to be hegemonic in Europe.

The conditional hegemony of Germany and the concomitant tensions with France have brought to the fore the changing geopolitical role of the EU. The Union is under pressure to function as a global imperial power competing with the United States and rising China. It has already acted as an imperial force by intervening in the Middle East and confronting Russia, also by creating centers—in effect concentration camps—for refugees and migrants across its southern borders. The growing geopolitical demands on the EU are likely to lead to further political tensions in the coming years. A global imperial role requires military power and for the EU that means France and the United Kingdom. If Brexit materializes, the pressure on Germany to boost its military spending will escalate and Germany will also be obliged to assert its dominance more openly.

Finally, the neoliberal evolution of the EU, summed up in the single market and the single currency, has been marked by a headlong retreat of democracy. The democratic deficit of the EU is well known since its institutions, including the European Parliament, the Commission, and the ECJ, not to mention the ECB, are designed to be impervious to popular will.7 The Commission is effectively appointed by the Council, which comprises heads of member states but is neither elected nor accountable, and certainly not to national electorates. The Council gives force to the bulk of EU law after preparatory work by a broad range of institutions attached to it, which are entirely unaccountable and considerably opaque. The process is designed to attract the lobbying attentions of large industrial, banking, and commercial enterprises that have turned Brussels into the second most important lobbying center in the world after Washington DC. The entrenchment of neoliberalism serving the interests of big business is inextricably linked to the antidemocratic functioning of the EU.

The retreat of democracy has gone together with a loss of popular sovereignty—that is, of the power of workers and the poor to affect materially their conditions of life and work. The collapse of popular sovereignty is apparent in the realm of economic policy, which is perhaps the most important component of government policy. Within the realm of the single market and the single currency, economic policy has become increasingly detached from parliamentary elections. Once a government is in power, its policies are broadly dictated by neoliberal constraints that derive largely from the institutions of the EU and the EMU. Loss of popular sovereignty has thus led to the hollowing out of democracy. This dramatic development underpins the mounting frustration of workers and the poor across Europe.

The neoliberal evolution of the EU is thus the appropriate terrain to analyze Brexit. The next step is briefly to examine the class forces and material transformations in British society during four decades of neoliberalism.

Class Forces and Material Transformations in the United Kingdom

The neoliberal transformation of the United Kingdom that began in the late 1970s—symbolized by Margaret Thatcher—shifted the balance of the British economy in favor of the service sector, currently standing at roughly 80 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).8 This is a crucial development that holds not only for Britain but also for other mature capitalist countries during the last four decades.

Most prominent among services is the financial sector. The British economy offers one of the clearest instances of financialization, a characteristic trend of mature and developing countries during the last four decades.9 The City of London is one of the main global centers of finance and the true financial center of Europe. It is also the most international part of the British economy and its concerns, requirements, and demands carry extraordinary political weight. The City seeks, above all, to operate globally and without hindrance in terms of foreign exchange transactions, derivatives clearing, bond issuance, and other international financial transactions, ultimately determining the attitude of British finance toward the EU.

Meanwhile, the relative weight of manufacturing declined from around 25 percent of GDP in the 1970s to roughly 10 percent in the late 2010s.10 However, Britain retains considerable manufacturing capacity on a global scale, including in aerospace, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, defense equipment, artificial intelligence, and elsewhere. Manufacturing still produces roughly 45 percent of British exports and, moreover, many economic activities classified within the service sector are integrally connected to manufacturing, for instance, logistics, catering, building services, and so on. Nevertheless, after four decades of neoliberalism and financialization, the weight of manufacturing capital within the British ruling bloc has declined relative to financial, commercial, and service-related capitals.

Two issues are paramount for British manufacturing at present: low productivity growth, which is closely related to low investment, and an urgent need to incorporate advanced digital technologies.11 It has been a long-standing strategy of British industry to rely on a relatively low-skilled labor force paid low wages. Since production has become internationalized and global value chains dictate manufacturing trends, British manufacturing has found it increasingly difficult to continue along the same path. Furthermore, significant parts of British manufacturing, such as automobiles, have come to operate under foreign ownership during the last four decades. Britain not only has one of the most financialized economies in the world, but also one of the most globalized in terms of ownership of productive capacity and foreign direct investment inflows and outflows. All these features of British capitalism matter greatly for its relations with the EU.

The impact of Britain’s neoliberal transformation on its working class has been dramatic. Manufacturing employment has declined from roughly 8 million in the late 1970s to below 3 million in the late 2010s.12 Construction currently employs 2.4 million and mining, energy, and water supply a further 0.6 million workers. In contrast, white-collar employment has increased substantially, pivoting on services. Note that the financial sector is not a large-scale employer, despite the financialization of the British economy. From the 32.6 million workers employed in Britain in December 2018, only 1.4 million were directly employed in financial and insurance services. The largest employers were human health and social work activities with 4.3 million and wholesale, retail, and repair of motor vehicles with 4.1 million workers.13

The dramatic change in the composition of the British working class has been accompanied by a decline in trade union membership. From a peak of roughly 13 million in the early 1980, membership fell to 6.2 million in 2017. Of these, 2.7 million worked in the private sector (13.5 percent of total private-sector employment) and 3.5 million in the public sector (51.8 percent of total public-sector employment).14 Union membership is highest among workers in professional services, and older workers are more likely to belong to unions, as are women compared to men. Black workers make up the group most likely to belong to unions.

In sum, trade union organization has declined substantially and is weaker among younger people, who are often employed in the new service industries. This development is more pronounced in the south and the southeast of Britain, where the service sector is heavily concentrated. The retreat of trade union organization was accompanied by a dramatic decline in the number of working days lost since the middle of the 1980s. The figures for strikes and workers involved in strike activity in the 2010s have been among the lowest since records began in 1891.15 The confidence of the British working class in its ability to confront capital is at a historically low point. The class for itself has received a body blow in the years of neoliberalism.

Equally remarkable has been the steady advance of social liberalism across British society during the decades of neoliberalism. The project of Thatcher to promote a return to traditional family values and social mores as part of the neoliberal transformation of Britain has been a complete failure. For a short while in the 1980s and ’90s, it seemed as if the advance of neoliberalism would be accompanied by a backlash against the social freedoms gained in the 1960s and ’70s. However, the backlash never became as severe as social conservatives had hoped and the country went in a different direction.

On the whole, during the last four decades, British society has been characterized by the advance of social liberalism regarding sexual orientation, gender, race, immigration, and so on, especially among young people. This is not to suggest that these profound problems of capitalist society have been resolved. Indeed, neoliberalism has had a deleterious impact on individual alienation and moral repression in British society. But there has not been a return to conservative social values: economic neoliberalism has learned to coexist with social liberalism. The shift has been so pronounced that even a thoroughly upper-class Tory prime minister such as David Cameron adopted the mantle of social liberalism in ways that would have been unthinkable for previous Conservative leaders.

The spread of liberal attitudes among wide sections of the transformed British working class has been a crucial element in the political debate following the referendum of 2016. Trade union organization and the ability to win in struggle against capital have declined dramatically, but at the same time progress has seemed feasible across several social fields. In this context, membership of the EU and the preeminence of liberal EU law have become ideologically associated with the defense of workers’ rights as well as with supporting the struggle for social rights in the United Kingdom. The failure of the radical left to achieve broad support for Lexit (left-wing Brexit), especially among the young, is related to these complex developments.

The Great Crisis of 2007–09 and Its Aftermath in the United Kingdom

The financialization crisis of 2007–09 hit the British economy hard and even led to a bank run. Once the banking sector had been stabilized through the provision of public liquidity and the tacit nationalization of key banks, sustained austerity followed. The government formed by a coalition of Tories and Liberals in 2010 aimed to reduce the public deficit and stabilize, or even reduce, the public debt.

The general government deficit declined dramatically from £147.4 billion (9.3 percent of GDP) in 2010 to £32.3 billion (1.5 percent of GDP) in 2018, complying with the limit of 3 percent set by the Excessive Deficit Procedure of Maastricht. General government debt, meanwhile, shot above the threshold of 60 percent of GDP, also set by the Excessive Deficit Procedure of the Maastricht Treaty, for the first time in 2009–10. In 2010, it stood at 75.2 percent of GDP and continued to rise for several years. It stabilized around 87 percent of GDP in 2014 and stood at 86.7 percent of GDP in 2018.16

Three points are crucial regarding the austerity policies of British governments since 2010. First, the broad framework of austerity policy has explicitly sought to comply with the stipulations of the Maastricht Treaty, even if Britain is not a signatory of the Fiscal Compact. Second, sustained austerity for several years has had a devastating impact on health, education, and other welfare provision. Third, the effort to cut public expenditure and reduce public debt occurred while global interest rates were at historically low levels approaching zero. The British state chose to impose severe costs on working people with the aim of reducing its debt at a time when it cost next to nothing to borrow.

During the same period, the macroeconomic performance of the British economy varied from indifferent to poor, particularly as investment was weak. GDP shrank by more than 6 percent between the first quarter of 2008 and the second quarter of 2009. It returned to its prerecession size only after five years and grew by a further 11 percent from 2013 to 2018.17 Unemployment, meanwhile, peaked at 8.4 percent but declined steadily after that, dropping to 3.9 percent in early 2019.18 Real earnings have barely risen since 2008, partly because of a pay freeze and subsequent cap for the public sector, and partly because of low wage growth in the private sector. The most striking aspect of labor during this period has been the complete collapse of productivity growth. Stagnation of labor productivity has marked the British economy since 2008, despite the growth of the high-technology sector of manufacturing.

In brief, the British economy underwent a severe recession followed by weak growth marked by poor investment. The financial sector was devastated resulting in tightness of credit and weakness of financial profits. Faced with the crisis, the British ruling class adopted policies that conformed to type: it maintained low wages, eventually allowing unemployment to decline as poor-quality jobs were created in the service sector. However, productivity collapsed, removing the underpinnings of sustained growth. At the same time, austerity generated tremendous pressure on public services, compounding the effect of low wages and creating circumstances of genuine penury among broad layers of the British working class. The only bright aspect for British capitalism was the sustained growth of the high-technology sector.

By the middle of the 2010s, profound frustration with low-income, problematic employment and poor welfare services was palpable among the British working class. Accumulated frustration found ready-made resonance with major changes in immigration patterns during the preceding years. Net non-EU immigration grew rapidly in the late 1990s but stabilized in the mid–2000s. At roughly the same time, net EU immigration began to grow rapidly, particularly from the newly acceded countries in Eastern Europe. From a very low level in the early 2000s, net EU immigration came to parallel the net flow of non-EU immigration by the mid–2010s.19

Encouraging growth of immigration from the EU in the 2000s was nothing more than the standard policy of the British ruling class aiming to secure cheap supplies of labor from across the world to sustain capital accumulation. Since 2016, the pattern of immigration from EU and non-EU countries has again been reversed and non-EU net inflows into Britain have reassumed their dominant position. However, in the middle of the 2010s it was perfectly plausible to draw the easy—and false—conclusion that the causes of sustained economic and social malaise in Britain were to be found in growing immigration from the EU, as has long been falsely asserted for black people from the Caribbean and Asians from the Indian subcontinent.

The Referendum of 2016

The referendum of 2016, occurring against the postcrisis economic and social background, produced a shock for the ruling bloc of Britain and the elite of the EU. Two factors are paramount in explaining the complex political phenomena of this period.

First, there is no major economic cleavage within the British ruling bloc regarding Europe. The City of London and the most powerful concentrations of commercial and industrial capital in Britain have no quarrel with the EU: the conditions of the single market are conducive to their profitability. The preference of the dominant economic interests would be to remain as closely linked to the EU as possible.20

Second, there is a long-standing political rift within the British ruling bloc. Membership of the EU has allowed the British ruling bloc to project imperial power far beyond the intrinsic capabilities of a second-rank economy, even if one with an imperial past. This is well understood by the dominant section of the ruling bloc, the main concentrations of economic power that are strong supporters of Remain. But for a section of the political elite, above all the right wing of the Tory party, loss of sovereignty to EU institutions, especially regarding the making of laws, is completely unacceptable.

This has always been a critical issue in British politics, as is apparent in connection with the single currency, which Britain never joined. Even Margaret Thatcher, who was firmly in favor of the single market, refused to countenance joining the EMU and sought to maintain national command over money. Of crucial importance in this respect was the sterling crisis of 1992, when Britain crashed out of the European Monetary System, the fixed exchange regime preceding the EMU, because of considerably higher inflation relative to Germany. The City of London has successfully adapted to life outside the EMU—it draws all the benefits of the single market regarding financial transactions, while possessing a separate central bank that could be relied on to act in its interests.

The persistent tensions on sovereignty gradually led to the characteristic stance of the British establishment relative to the EU, summed up as: Britain accepts the position of a net contributing member but secures opt-outs on issues that may critically infringe its sovereignty. This strategy was successful for many years after the British ruling bloc joined the EU in the mid–1970s. Britain played a crucial role (together with Germany) in shaping the ideological and legal framework of the single market in a neoliberal direction, while consistently demanding opt-outs, not least from labor and social regulations. However, as the neoliberal transformation of the EU accelerated in the 2010s and German ascendancy in the single market became evident, the British strategy reached the end of its life.21

Since the outbreak of the eurozone crisis in 2010, the EU has been increasingly run by directives, regulations, and other extraordinary measures from which it is impossible to demand opt-outs. The demise of the long-standing British strategy was signaled by the failure of David Cameron to secure special status in the EU in 2015–16, which eventually forced him to hold the referendum in 2016. Cameron hoped to placate the right wing of the Tory party but, in truth, intended to gain a victory for Remain that would safeguard the dominant economic and political interests of the ruling bloc, while buying time to develop a new strategy relative to the EU. Rarely have political miscalculations been more catastrophic.

The political divide within the British ruling bloc allowed the accumulated frustration of workers and the poor to come to the surface in support of Leave. It was clear immediately after the vote that working-class and plebeian Britain wanted to exit the EU.22 Moreover, it is not true that Leave supporters came mostly from the so-called failed white working class of the traditional industrial cities of the north of England, or from the old and nostalgic remnants of the British Empire, as Remain propaganda would have it. On the contrary, they included a third of Britain’s black and other ethnic minorities, large numbers of conservatives in well-off areas, half of women voters, and even 40 percent of the population of London.23

The victory of Leave resulted from the frustration of workers and the poor with the neoliberal disasters of the preceding years, which found vent in sovereignty and EU migration. There is nothing unusual in class opposition crystallizing around issues that are not the true cause of class tensions and might even be inherently flawed. The vote for Leave was not caused by a sudden burgeoning of racism in Britain. That is not to deny the undoubted presence of racists within the right-wing Leave campaign, nor the heavy and negative emphasis on immigration. The real problem was, however, that the British left misjudged the underlying frustration of the working class, completely underestimated the extent of popular opposition to the EU, particularly as the decline of health services was often associated with EU immigration in the popular mind (certainly false but nonetheless present), and effectively abstained from the national debate on Remain versus Leave. The terrain was ceded to the Brexiter right. The failure was severely compounded after the referendum as the left recoiled from the result, contributing to the problematic political evolution of Britain.

Political Chaos and Theresa May’s Failure

Politics in Britain after the referendum was determined primarily by the Tory Party, which in effect abandoned its traditional role as the voice of the British ruling bloc. In an astonishing development, the Tories came to be dominated by right-wing supporters of Leave, losing much of their ability to speak for the City of London and big business.

The Tory right wing interpreted the victory of Leave as an opportunity to restrict immigration as well as conduct favorable trade deals detached from the shackles of the EU. For more than two years, the Tories proposed complicated trade schemes that would, presumably, be more favorable for British capital than the single market and the Customs Union. Rarely has a public debate been more pointless. The City of London and British big business repeatedly stated that, as far as they were concerned, no trading arrangements existed superior to those of the EU. The dominant sections of the British ruling bloc would prefer to remain in the EU or at least maintain the strongest possible connections with the single market and its broader trading arrangements.

Equally astonishing was the transformation of the Labour Party during the same period. Under Jeremy Corbyn, who assumed the leadership in 2015, the party moved to the left, openly supporting radical and potentially socialist measures. Several of these appeared in the party’s electoral manifesto of 2017, including nationalizing railways, creating a national investment bank, and lifting austerity. This radical program and Corbyn’s personal standing as an honest socialist politician helped the Labour Party perform forcefully in the parliamentary elections of 2017, as well as attract a new generation of young people to left-wing politics.

The rational course of action for Labour after the referendum of 2016 would be to embrace Brexit as a decisive opportunity to transform the British economy in the interests of workers and the poor. Leave could potentially open the door to nationalization, public banking, a transformative industrial policy, income and wealth redistribution, and the lifting of austerity, all of which would be required to restructure radically the British economy. Leave would also offer the opportunity to renew democracy and restrengthen popular sovereignty, in line with the voters’ demands expressed in the referendum. Democracy and popular sovereignty would provide the grounds for a national migration policy reflecting the interests of labor, fully protecting the rights of immigrants and establishing mutually agreed terms for the movement of workers. Such policies would be impossible to achieve with the required radicalism within the EU single market. That is precisely the meaning of Lexit.24

Corbyn’s leadership team was aware of the opportunities presented by Brexit and the obstacles to implementing a socialist program within the neoliberal EU. But the rank and file of the Labour Party has changed in recent years, reflecting the transformation of the British economy. White-collar, professional workers are particularly prominent in large urban areas, strongly influenced by identity politics and with a different outlook toward political activity than traditional Labour members. They have veered toward Remain and Reform after the referendum, finding ready-made support from sections of the leadership opposed to Corbyn’s radical left-wing recasting of the Labour Party. The trouble for Labour Remain and Reform supporters, however, is that, according to a sophisticated academic estimation, two-thirds of Labour-voting parliamentary constituencies (in the British first-past-the-post majority system) voted for Leave (to be precise, 149 for Leave and 83 for Remain).25 If the Labour Party is to form government, it must win key marginal constituencies that voted for Leave in the referendum.

The political difficulty posed by Brexit for the Labour Party can now be clearly appreciated: Labour has a left leadership broadly critical of the EU but a rank-and-file membership in favor of Remain and Reform and an electoral base crucially allocated in constituencies voting for Leave. The majority of Labour Members of Parliament are in favor of Remain and Reform but many are elected in constituencies that favor Leave. In these circumstances, Labour was unable to offer effective leadership to the cause of a left-wing exit following the referendum.

The political failure of the Tory Party and the weakness of the Labour Party were matched by the maladroitness of May. Originally a Remainer, she assumed the leadership of the Tory Party in 2016 and moved toward Leave, taking it upon herself to deliver Brexit. Her political ineptitude became evident in 2017, when she called a snap election thinking that she would triumph, only to lose her majority in Parliament and thus having to rely on the right-wing Democratic Union Party of Northern Ireland. Given the economic, social, and political factors underpinning Brexit, a minority government could only have been a recipe for political disaster, and so it proved.

The deal that May negotiated for two years with the EU bore the hallmarks of the British Civil Service, not to mention furious lobbying by the City of London and big business. The EU was the dominant party in the negotiations, but Britain had considerable advantages. The City of London is the preeminent financial center of Europe and will be very difficult to replace, even if French financial capital, with the help of the French government, is keen to try. Britain is also the second largest economy of the EU and a substantial net contributor to the EU budget. It is, moreover, a major destination for Dutch fresh vegetables, German cars and other exports, and a variety of commodities from Ireland, which is closely linked to the British economy. Last but far from least, Britain and France are the real military and security powers of the EU. Given the geopolitical evolution of the EU, British military power will continue to play a major role in projecting European imperialism, irrespective of the final agreement with the EU.

May’s Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration accompanying it were considerable balancing acts in favor of the broad interests of the British ruling bloc.26 Provision was made for the withdrawal of Britain from the institutions of the EU and even from the jurisdiction of the ECJ after a transition period of less than two years, thus formally removing the country from the EU. The framework of the single market for the production and trade of goods was permanently accepted. With regard to financial services, so-called passporting rights were ensured for financial firms during the transition period, allowing for the continuation of international transactions across Europe. Provision was also made for some alleged equivalence of regulations after the transition period, ensuring time and scope for British financial capital to negotiate its links with the EU. Finally, Britain was kept within the EU Customs Union for the transition period, providing a common external tariff and thus eliding the issue of a “hard” border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (the so-called backstop). If agreement on the status of the Irish border could not be reached within the transition period, membership of the Customs Union would be extended indefinitely.

From the perspective of the City of London and British big business, May’s deal was acceptable. It freed the country from the rigmarole of negotiating sovereignty within the EU under German ascendancy; it removed the pressure on the British ruling bloc to find a strategy to replace opt-outs; it ensured the continuation of single-market rules for British industry; it gave the City of London a strong chance to ensure its preponderance in Europe; it maintained the Customs Union for the transition period and possibly indefinitely if a new status for Northern Ireland could not be ensured, which is an acceptable cost for British capital. It also incorporated the existing EU regulations on state aid, public procurement, and competition, thus acting as a strong barrier against a future interventionist socialist government, possibly led by Corbyn.

The downfall of May occurred because her deal was repeatedly rejected by the Tory Party, while her political ineptitude destroyed her authority as party leader and prime minister, eventually leading to her resignation in July 2019. The Tory Party engaged in poisonous feuds in which right-wing Brexiters held the upper hand. Parliament, meanwhile, fragmented into several groups—often across parties—that proposed alternative deals with the EU, none of which carried much weight. Britain found itself in a political logjam and failed to exit the EU on March 29, 2019, the deadline after May’s activation of Article 50 of the EU Treaty in 2017. An extension of membership until October 2019, granted to the United Kingdom by the EU, represented a rare instance of historical failure for a ruling bloc as powerful as that of Britain. It signaled a deep crisis for the British state in which both the executive and legislative wings of power lost much of their ability to serve the interests of the ruling bloc.

The options for the British government will remain harsh with Johnson as prime minister. The main centers of economic and social power in the United Kingdom would prefer to see a variant of May’s deal approved by Parliament. Yet, neither the parliamentary arithmetic nor the minority status of the Tory government have changed with the election of Johnson. Moreover, Johnson won the leadership contest promising that he would ensure exit by October 31, 2019, even without a deal with the EU. Such a prospect fills British manufacturing, and especially the City of London, with deep concern because it would assign Britain the status of a so-called third country, forcing it to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization rules. Johnson might use no-deal Brexit as a bargaining chip with the EU—which is not really prepared for the blow it would deliver to German industry, Dutch agriculture, and the Irish economy. At the time of writing (August 2019), there was a chance that Johnson’s pressure would work, forcing the EU to back down and securing a form of May’s deal without the Irish “backstop.” But it was also clear that Johnson would face opposition by powerful British centers of power if he actually tried to implement a no-deal Brexit.

Furthermore, the prospect of abandoning Brexit, either by unilaterally revoking the decision to withdraw under Article 50 or via a fresh referendum, is laden with major political risks. A formal unilateral revocation would be a gigantic international humiliation for the British ruling bloc, a veritable Road to Canossa. Its position in the EU would be permanently weakened and there would be deep domestic anger. In contrast, apart from being a severe humiliation, attempting to abandon Brexit via a second referendum would be highly uncertain. Despite the breezy assertions of the Remain side that the British people have regretted their 2016 vote, there is little evidence that this is substantially true.

On the contrary, the European elections of May 2019 have offered ample evidence that the Leave side is numerous and indignant. The meteoric rise of the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage indicated the depth of popular frustration with the political debilitation of Britain. There was a powerful popular reaction against the parliamentary shenanigans and the hollowing out of democracy after the referendum. However, the growing attachment of the left to Remain and Reform offered no political alternative and led to a search for answers in right-wing populism, including the authoritarian right. In these circumstances, it is probable that the United Kingdom will face a political crisis in the coming period as the turmoil over Brexit intensifies. The Tory right under Johnson is keen to strengthen its hold on power by promising not only to deliver Brexit but also to lift austerity in several areas of public spending. The worst mistake the Labour Party could make in these circumstances is to throw its weight entirely on the Remain side as that would alienate it from much of its traditional working-class support, while removing the basis for a radical socialist program.

For a Socialist Stance Toward the European Union

The main issues raised by Davidson and Storey can now begin to be tackled with the complexity they deserve.

The Greek political turmoil of 2010–15 foregrounded the question of radical policies capable of breaking the neoliberal consensus in Europe and being adopted within the confines of the euro. Conditions in Greece were never mature enough directly to raise the question of socialist transformation. Nonetheless, the debacle of Syriza established beyond dispute that EMU membership is incompatible with radical antineoliberal policies. There is no need even to mention, therefore, that socialist policies would be unthinkable within the straitjacket of the euro. The European left, if it truly aims for socialism, ought to prepare for individual exit from the monetary union, as well as replacing the mechanisms of the common currency with a system that controls capital flows and stabilizes exchange rates based on solidarity.27 That was broadly the position of the left wing of Syriza, but it lost the political battle against the leadership of Alexis Tsipras.

Brexit has taken the political debate onto a higher level by openly posing the question of EU membership but also of socialist transformation. The broad outline of radical socialist reforms in Britain—and other European countries—can be sketched without undue difficulty. These are reforms that would deliver a body blow to neoliberal capitalism, while changing the social balance in favor of labor and against capital, thus laying the path for socialist transformation. There is broad agreement within the left regarding their tenor, and elements of them can be found in the Labour Party Manifesto proposed by Corbyn in 2017.28

The United Kingdom ought to definancialize its economy by reducing the weight, impact, and role of the financial system. To that purpose, it should also adopt a bold industrial policy that would change the sectoral balance away from services, strengthen growth, and begin to tackle the complex environmental crisis characteristic of contemporary capitalism. Industrial policy would be further accompanied by lifting austerity and abandoning the self-defeating policy of reducing the national debt. A basis would thus be provided for the recovery of public investment.

It cannot be overstressed that these policies require public property and sustained intervention by the state across a range of sectors, including transport, energy, water, and others. Public property and control are also required over the financial system, creating public investment banks as well as introducing public control over key commercial banks. Controls would certainly be necessary over the flows of money capital across borders limiting the international activities of the City.

Furthermore, a socialist government would pursue income and wealth redistribution through wage and tax measures, dealing with the extraordinary growth of inequality of the last four decades. Redistribution would further be promoted by strengthening public provision in health, housing, and education, reversing the destructive privatizations of recent decades. Not least, a socialist government would be against free trade but without isolating Britain from international trade. The aim would be to establish a framework of regulated trade to support the restructuring of the British economy.

Implementing such a socialist program necessarily implies rejecting the single market and the four freedoms of the EU. There is no path to socialism without democratic controls over the flows of goods, services, and money, all of which are intrinsic to the measures sketched above. Much the same holds for labor. It is a dangerous fallacy that the freedom of labor articulated in the Maastricht Treaty should be defended in the name of workers’ solidarity and internationalism.29

The stance of a socialist government on migration ought to be determined by concrete policies defending immigrants, while also protecting the conditions of domestic workers. A socialist government in the United Kingdom would guarantee the rights of all resident EU nationals, while requesting equivalent rights for British workers in the EU. It would negotiate reciprocal arrangements for worker migration with the EU while providing full protection for workers who enter the British labor market from across the world. Importantly, it would help ensure rights of safe passage and abode for refugees. There is nothing exclusionary about policies of this kind. On the contrary, they are concrete steps based on socialist principles that are a world removed from the airy abstractions of Maastricht serving big business and creating Fortress Europe.

What is required for Britain to adopt such policies is popular control of the national levers of power, that is, genuine popular sovereignty. The socialist transformation of society rests on social controls across all fields, including labor. From the perspective of the working class, controls are an integral aspect of freeing society from the rule of capital, as is apparent for controls over money, goods, and services. It is no less so for controls over labor, the most crucial component of human activity. The freedom of labor outlined in the Maastricht Treaty, quite apart from excluding vast numbers of workers from outside Europe, offers no real freedom to those who lack full protection of wages and working conditions, as well as proper access to housing, social security, education, and so on. Conscious control of the functioning of labor, far from being divisive or a negation of freedom, unites workers and facilitates freedom.

It is astounding that much of the British and the European left believes that EU membership would pose no fundamental obstacles to a truly transformative socialist program of this kind. It is equally astounding that, when the subject of the entrenched neoliberalism of the EU is raised, the answer often is to Remain and Reform.30 This is no more than a catchy slogan devoid of content. The EU is beyond radical reform in the interests of workers and the poor; indeed, it is impervious to democratic pressure from below. It is not accidental that, when it comes to the Reform part of the slogan, there is a marked paucity of concrete suggestions regarding the putative changes to EU institutions, mechanisms, member state alliances, and so on. For, there is not the slightest chance that a socialist government, even in a powerful country such as Britain, would be able to implement radical institutional and democratic changes within the rigid machinery of the EU.

To be a little more specific, any fundamental reform involving changes in the treaties (the primary law of the EU) would require consensus among all governments of member states, including those of the authoritarian right. Any reform of secondary law (regulations, directives, decisions) would require the consent of the Commission, which has the exclusive right to initiate legislation, plus the majority of the governments and the majority of the members of the European Parliament. If all that was somehow achieved, the reform would still have to satisfy the ECJ, the ultimate guardian of the four freedoms underpinning the neoliberal transformation of the EU. Remain and Reform is simply a hopeless task.31

There is no doubt that, to move toward radical socialist transformation, the United Kingdom would have to consider rupture with the EU. In pursuing a radical path, a socialist government would face the unrelenting hostility of its own domestic ruling bloc attempting to maintain the closest possible links with the single market and relying on the power afforded by EU law and institutions. Rupture with the EU would immediately pose the question of democracy but also of popular sovereignty that is integral to democracy. Socialism has always presumed democracy as a fundamental political principle, implying the ability to regulate the fabric of civil and political society according to popular will and through popular power. This is the ultimate source of popular sovereignty and a prerequisite for socialist transformation.

It cannot be overstressed that, in contemporary capitalism, the initial terrain for popular sovereignty and democracy is the nation-state. Democratic politics require the presence of a demos with its own class divisions and associated political parties. Political contestation takes democratic forms only when the interests of workers and the poor are expressed in political parties. But there is neither a European demos nor a European working class. Political parties in the European Parliament are unstable party alliances engaging in horse trading based on crude national interests. Democratic class politics in Europe are always and without exception national. This is not at all to deny the importance of international movements uniting workers across Europe and elsewhere on a broad range of issues, including labor rights, environmental protection, opposing war, and so on. However, the transnational space of the EU is natural terrain for big business to thrive, democracy to be bypassed, and hegemonic states to limit national sovereignty. The workers and the poor of Europe have never accepted the transnational mechanisms of the EU as their own, and their class instinct has been right.

Command over national space is a requirement for transition to socialism. As a bare minimum, it includes command over the institutional mechanisms of taxation, central banking, health, education, and housing, not to mention control over the justice system, security services, and so on. This has nothing to do with nationalism or the negation of international solidarity among workers. On the contrary, popular control over the national levers of power is the bedrock of true internationalism. Socialism is certainly meaningless if it is not international, but it is equally meaningless without worker command over national space. For socialism to be more than wishful thinking, workers must have control over national apparatuses and mechanisms of power as the foundation of internationalism. At the very least, this entails rupture with the neoliberal transnational mechanisms of the EU.

The European left is in a state of weakness and confusion, as was clearly demonstrated in the European elections of May 2019. Its first task is to grasp the fundamental need for rupture with the EU and the EMU. The second and even more difficult task is to construct a political organization capable of expressing the internationalist character of rupture and the prospect of genuine solidarity among European peoples. This is the lesson of Brexit and the true challenge for twenty-first-century socialism in Europe.


  1. See Andy Storey, “Navigating the Brexit Strait,” Monthly Review 71, no. 5 (October 2019); Neil Davidson, “Socialist Internationalism Against the European Union,” Monthly Review 71, no. 5 (October 2019); Costas Lapavitsas, The Left Case Against the EU (Cambridge: Polity, 2019). See also Andy Storey, “Exit Stage Left? What Scope for Progressive Politics Against the EU?,” Dublin European Institute, February 28, 2019
  2. See “Donald Tusk: Brexit Could Destroy Western Political Civilisation,” BBC News, June 13, 2016.
  3. The best-known case is that of Claire Fox, ex-leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, with a prominent role in British media: Peter Walker, “Former Communist Standing as MEP for Farage’s Brexit Party,” Guardian, April 23, 2019.
  4. This has been discussed in detail in Costas Lapavitsas, “Political Economy of the Greek Crisis,” Review of Radical Political Economics 51, no. 1 (2019): 31–51.
  5. An authoritative historical analysis can be found in Harold James, Making the European Monetary Union (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014).
  6. The clearest and simplest presentation of the circuit as circular flow can be found in Ben Fine, Marx’s Capital (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1975).
  7. For a clear and succinct account of the democratic sham of the EU, see Thomas Fazi, “The European Union Is an Antidemocratic Disgrace,” Jacobin, May 23, 2019.
  8. See Lorna Booth, “Components of GDP: Key Economic Indicators,” House of Commons Briefing Paper no. 02787, July 12, 2019.
  9. See Costas Lapavitsas, Profiting without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (London: Verso, 2014).
  10. See “Manufacturing, Value Added (% of GDP),” World Bank,
  11. Admitted even by the government’s own wordy Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain Fit for the Future (London: Crown, 2017).
  12. See Chris Rhodes, “Manufacturing: Statistics and Policy,” House of Commons Briefing Paper no. 01942, November 12, 2018.
  13. See dataset “EMP13: Employment by Industry,” Office for National Statistics, May 14, 2019,
  14. See Trade Union Membership 2017: Statistical Bulletin (London: Crown, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2018).
  15. See dataset “Labour Disputes, Annual Estimates, UK,” Office for National Statistics, May 17, 2019,
  16. See UK Government Debt and Deficit: December 2018 (London: Office for National Statistics, 2019),
  17. See “The 2008 Recession 10 Years On,” Office for National Statistics, April 30, 2018,
  18. See “Unemployment Rate (Aged 16 and Over, Seasonally Adjusted),” Office for National Statistics, July 16, 2019,
  19. See “Migration Statistics Quarterly Report: February 2019,” Office for National Statistics, February 28, 2019,
  20. See, for instance, James Blitz, “Business Leaders Back ‘Common Market 2.0’ Deal After Brexit,” Financial Times, March 26, 2019.
  21. See Helen Thompson, “Inevitability and Contingency: The Political Economy of Brexit,” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 19, no. 3 (2017): 434–49.
  22. See Costas Lapavitsas, “Why They Left,” Jacobin, July 7, 2016.
  23. See Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (London: Pelican, 2018).
  24. See Costas Lapavitsas, “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour vs. the Single Market,” Jacobin, May 30, 2018.
  25. See Chris Hanretty, “Areal Interpolation and the UK’s Referendum on EU Membership,” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 27, no. 4 (2017): 466–83.
  26. See “Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration,” Department for Exiting the European Union, November 25, 2018,
  27. This is not nearly as difficult as many imagine it to be, provided that the left was prepared to control footloose and speculative financial capital. Europe does not need a common currency and there are even politically moderate proposals on how to replace it. For example, see Fritz W. Scharpf, There Is an Alternative: A Two-Tier European Currency Community, MPIfG Discussion Paper 18/7 (Cologne, Germany: Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, 2018).
  28. See Labour Party, For the Many Not the Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017 (Cramlington, UK: Potts, 2017).
  29. A fallacy exemplified by Alex Callinicos, “Shambling Towards the Precipice,” International Socialism 162 (2019), in an otherwise excellent article.
  30. Supported by those who ought to have learned something useful from their own disastrous confrontations with the EU, see Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, A Manifesto for Democratising Europe (DiEM25, 2016).
  31. For an excellent and succinct analysis of the realities of Remain and Reform, see Lee Jones, “The Folly of ‘Remain and Reform’: Why the EU Is Impervious to Change,” Full Brexit, March 5, 2019.
2019, Volume 71, Issue 05 (October 2019)
Comments are closed.