The British Left’s fear of democracy betrayed

The Left’s transition from a force for Eurosceptism to a defender of the EU has taken place over decades. While the Labour party was once home to powerful Eurosceptic voices – such as that of Tony Benn – today Labour is campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU – even if its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, may not be very enthusiastic in that cause.

The main left-wing argument for the EU is that its laws limit the powers of the government, thereby protecting our rights from a Conservative party which might otherwise remove them.

It is a troubling argument because it does not trust the British people to hold their leaders to account. Instead, it assumes that the Conservatives would abolish our rights without a thought for their electoral prospects, It also assumes that following a Conservative “bonfire of rights”, the public would continue to vote for the Conservatives as if nothing had happened.

This is of course wholly implausible. If the Conservatives dared to have such a “bonfire”, the British public would surely elect a Labour government to extinguish it, and return those rights.

Bizarrely, while this argument rests on a very distrustful view of the British public, it places a remarkable degree of trust in appointed EU officials.

Given that these officials are neither emotionally invested in this country, nor accountable to British voters, what reason do we have for thinking that they will make the right decisions for Britain? I have yet to hear any convincing one. 

For those concerned about rights should not fear British independence. In fact, they should welcome prospect if its means that we take back powers from Brussels and thereby reaffirm our basic right to hold our lawmakers to account, instead of being governed by a remote, appointed elite in Brussels.

The importance of that right is gigantic. As Labour MP and Leave Campaigner Kate Hoey has argued, it is “the basis for all other rights and without it rights can easily be taken away. And I don’t believe you can trust people in power if they cannot be removed by elections.”

A British exit from the EU could reinvigorate our democracy, taking Westminster out of the shadow of Brussels and enabling the public to regain a greater degree of control over their lives by empowering their elected representatives.

A vote to leave is a vote to trust ourselves. That is surely more appealing than the alternative.